Three out of four Vermonters say they are interested in using â an online health insurance exchange’to compare and purchase health insurance, according to a Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA) survey. After learning more about the â online health insurance exchange,’that number grows to 86 percent who say they would be interested in using the website if they are uninsured in 2014. This â online health insurance exchange,’also known as the Vermont Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange), will launch a new website in the Fall of 2013 where individuals, families and small businesses in Vermont can search for health insurance, compare plans side-by-side and enroll. The website will feature plans from private carriers as well as public programs, like Medicaid and Dr. Dynasaur. The Exchange will also create a Navigator program ‘giving Vermonters access to assistance online, in-person and over the phone. Vermont has received funding from the federal government to establish the Exchange and plan its implementation, including the entire cost of fielding this survey. As part of that funding, Vermont is required to demonstrate to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the State’s ability and preparedness to conduct outreach and education to residents to inform them of the Exchange and how they can access coverage on the Exchange. To inform outreach and education planning, DVHA fielded a statewide survey to hear directly from Vermonters and identify their current understanding of and perceptions about health care coverage and the Exchange. The survey finds that nearly one-third (29 percent) of Vermonters are either uninsured or worried about losing their health coverage in the next 12 months. At the same time, a large majority (73 percent) remain unaware that a new â online health insurance exchange’will be available beginning in 2014. â The Health Benefit Exchange couldnâ t be more timely. We are learning that many Vermonters are worried about their health coverage situation but not familiar with the increased access to health coverage they will have in 2014,’said DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson. â We see the Health Benefit Exchange as an opportunity to address the concerns of so many while creating a more accessible and secure marketplace for all Vermonters.â The Exchange will play a key role in connecting people to health coverage, and three in four Vermonters indicate comfort selecting a health plan through a website, which is the primary mechanism for enrollment. Vermonters want to be certain that health plans on the Exchange would cover basic services (e.g., doctor visits, hospital stays, preventive care and prescriptions), to have one place where they could find and compare plans, and to view side-by-side comparisons of plans’benefits and prices. â We remain committed to educating Vermonters about the Exchange, and we continue to welcome input as we design the Exchange in a manner that works best for individuals, families and small businesses in Vermont,’said Deputy Commissioner for the Health Benefit Exchange Lindsey Tucker. â Receiving feedback from residents guides our work and will help us create an Exchange that fulfills its potential as a trusted, useful resource for Vermonters.’Tucker invites those interested in learning more about the Exchange and its progress to the next Exchange Advisory Board meeting in Montpelier on April 30, 2012. The statewide telephone survey was conducted among 1,004 residents 18 and older March 17 through 25, 2012. The margin of sampling error is + 3.1 percentage points. Interviewing was conducted by landline and cell phone. The results of the survey will inform the development of the navigator program and outreach and education planning. The Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA)â s mission includes providing leadership for Vermont stakeholders to improve access, quality and cost effectiveness in health care reform; assisting Medicaid beneficiaries in accessing clinically appropriate health services; administering Vermont’s public health insurance system efficiently and effectively; and collaborating with other health care system entities in bringing evidence-based practices to Vermont Medicaid beneficiaries.Department of Vermont Health Access 4.9.2012
Why do some teenagers start smoking or experimenting with drugsâ while others donâ t? In the largest imaging study of the human brain ever conductedâ involving 1,896 14-year-oldsâ scientists have discovered a number of previously unknown networks that go a long way toward an answer.Robert Whelan and Hugh Garavan of the University of Vermont, along with a large group of international colleagues, report that differences in these networks provide strong evidence that some teenagers are at higher risk for drug and alcohol experimentationâ simply because their brains work differently, making them more impulsive.Their findings are presented in the journal Nature Neuroscience, published online April 29, 2012.Drug use biomarkerThis discovery helps answer a long-standing chicken-or-egg question about whether certain brain patterns come before drug useâ or are caused by it. “The differences in these networks seem to precede drug use,” says Garavan, Whelan’s colleague in UVM’s psychiatry department, who also served as the principal investigator of the Irish component of a large European research project, called IMAGEN, that gathered the data about the teens in the new study.In a key finding, diminished activity in a network involving the “orbitofrontal cortex” is associated with experimentation with alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs in early adolescence.”These networks are not working as well for some kids as for others,” says Whelan, making them more impulsive.Faced with a choice about smoking or drinking, the 14-year-old with a less functional impulse-regulating network will be more likely to say, “yeah, gimme, gimme, gimme!” says Garavan, “and this other kid is saying, ‘no, Iâ m not going to do that.'”Testing for lower function in this and other brain networks could, perhaps, be used by researchers someday as “a risk factor or biomarker for potential drug use,” Garavan says.The links with ADHDThe researchers were also able to show that other newly discovered networks are connected with the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. These ADHD networks are distinct from those associated with early drug use.In recent years, there has been controversy and extensive media attention about the possible connection between ADHD and drug abuse. Both ADHD and early drug use are associated with poor inhibitory controlâ theyâ re problems that plague impulsive people.But the new research shows that these seemingly related problems are regulated by different networks in the brainâ even though both groups of teens can score poorly on tests of their “stop-signal reaction time,” a standard measure of overall inhibitory control used in this study and other similar ones. This strengthens the idea that risk of ADHD is not necessarily a full-blown risk for drug use as some recent studies suggest.Impulsivity in piecesThe impulsivity networksâ connected areas of activity in the brain revealed by increased blood flowâ begin to paint a more nuanced portrait of the neurobiology underlying the patchwork of attributes and behaviors that psychologists call impulsivityâ as well as the capacity to put brakes on these impulses, a set of skills sometimes called inhibitory control.Edythe London, Professor of Addiction Studies and Director of the UCLA Laboratory of Molecular Pharmacology, who was not part of the new study, described it as “outstanding,” noting that the work by Whelan and others “substantially advances our understanding of the neural circuitry that governs inhibitory control in the adolescent brain.”Successful stopsUsing a complex mathematical approach called factor analysis, Whelan and colleagues were able to fish out seven networks involved when impulses were successfully inhibited and six networks involved when inhibition failedâ from the vast and chaotic actions of a teenage brain at work. These networks “light up,” Whelan says, in a functional MRI scanner during trials when the teenagers were asked to perform a repetitive task that involved pushing a button on a keyboard, but then were able to successfully stopâ or inhibitâ the act of pushing the button in mid-action. Those teens with better inhibitory control were able to succeed at this task faster.But the underlying networks behind these tasks could not have been detectable in a “typical fMRI study of about 16 or 20 people,” says Whelan. “This study was orders of magnitude bigger, which lets us overcome much of the randomness and noiseâ and find the brain regions that actually vary together.””The take-home message is that impulsivity can be decomposed, broken down into different brain regions,” says Garavan, “and the functioning of one region is related to ADHD symptoms, while the functioning of other regions is related to drug use.”The new study draws on the multi-year work of the IMAGEN Consortium, funded by the European Union, and headed by Prof. Gunter Schumann at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. IMAGEN, lead by a team of scientists across Europe, carried out neuroimaging, genetic and behavioral analyses in 2000 teenage volunteers in Ireland, England, France, and Germany and will be following them for several years, investigating the roots of risk-taking behavior and mental health in teenagers.Risky businessThat teenagers push against boundariesâ and sometimes take risksâ is as predictable as the sunrise. It happens in all cultures and even across all mammal species: adolescence is a time to test limits and develop independence.But death among teenagers in the industrialized world is largely caused by preventable or self-inflicted accidents that are often launched by impulsive risky behaviors, often associated with alcohol and drug use. Additionally, “addiction in the western world is our number one health problem,” says Garavan. “Think about alcohol, cigarettes or harder drugs and all the consequences that has in society for peopleâ s health.” Understanding brain networks that put some teenagers at higher risk for starting to use them could have large implications for public health.
Northstar Vermont Yankee,by Andrew Stein March 21, 2013 vtdigger.org Thursday marked the one-year anniversary that Vermont Yankee’ s initial 40-year operating license expired, and the aging nuclear plant finds itself on rough financial footing. In a November 2012 filing with US Securities and Exchange Commission, Entergy Corp. informed investors that in March of last year the company estimated that the fair value of its Vermont Yankee plant had dropped to $162 million ‘ three times less than the carrying value of $517.5 million.The fair value is ‘ based on the price that Entergy would expect to receive in a hypothetical sale of the Vermont Yankee plant,’ the filing says. The cash flow projections ‘ depend on pending legal and state regulatory matters, as well as projections of future revenues and expenses.’The news of Vermont Yankee’ s devaluation was brought to light almost a year later. The Rutland Herald’ s Susan Smallheer spotlighted the issue on Thursday’ a day after the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) asked Entergy for additional information on its finances.‘ The NRC staff requires further information to insure that the licensee is meeting NRC requirements for financial qualifications,’ wrote Richard Guzman, NRC project manager, roughly a year after his agency renewed Vermont Yankee’ s federal operating license.NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the financial qualifications place a precedent on safety.‘ We want to make sure the owners of nuclear power plants have the financial wherewithal to properly and safely operate a plant as well as decommission it when the time comes,’ he said.Does Vermont Yankee currently have the ‘ financial wherewithal’ to operate safely?‘ We don’ t know that at this point,’ he said. ‘ Typically, we do these kinds of financial reviews when there’ s a license transfer ‘¦ but we also keep our eye out for other developments that could affect a plant’ s financial qualifications, and the SEC filing raised some questions about where the financial picture stands for Vermont Yankee.’The NRC is not sure how long it took Entergy to officially notify investors of the plant’ s fair value, as the estimation reportedly came in March, and it wasn’ t reported until November. The agency is investigating this discrepancy, Sheehan said.Entergy would not comment on the matter other than to say it would respond to the NRC within the allotted 45-day time frame.NRC’ s letter was sent out two days after a coalition of anti-nuclear activists petitioned the NRC to enforce federal regulations. The group filed a petition on Tuesday morning that accused Entergy of no longer meeting the financial qualifications to legally operate Vermont Yankee and the NY Fitzpatrick plants.‘ Entergy’ s financial problems must not become nuclear safety problems,’ Tim Judson, president of Citizens’ Awareness Network and one of the petition’ s authors, said in a public statement. ‘ Unfortunately, that may already be happening, and the NRC must act now. Entergy is in this business to make a profit, and the pressure on the company to cut costs, delay maintenance, and drive these plants to the edge is just too great.’On Wednesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin fielded questions from reporters about the plant. He was hesitant to talk about it, as the state is tied up in litigations with Entergy in front of the Vermont Supreme Court, the Vermont Public Service Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals.The governor did, however, address the plant’ s financial status, suggesting the economic pressures may result in the plant’ s closure.‘ It’ s one of the smallest generating nuclear plants in America’¦ and it’ s a tough business to be in right now because of natural gas prices,’ Shumlin said. ‘ I just continue to hope that the economics will work in our favor. If not, I hope that the second circuit (court of appeals) and the Public Service Board will work in our favor. It’ s well past time to shut down that aging ‘¦ nuclear power plant.’The NRC’ s inquiry into Vermont Yankee’ s finances comes one month after the Swiss financial services firm UBS Securities downgraded Entergy’ s stock from ‘ neutral’ to ‘ sell.’UBS released a report earlier this year that suggested Entergy could improve its financial outlook if it closed Vermont Yankee.But as Vermont Business Magazine first reported, Entergy went ahead with its planned refueling on schedule in March. A Vermont Yankee official told VBM that the refueling would keep the plant operating for another 18 months, or until the fall of 2014. The last time the plant was refueled, the pricetag was estimated at upwards of $100 million, between the cost of the enriched uranium, the installation and the maintenance that is typically done when the plant is shut down for refueling.UBS, the global financial services firm based in Switzerland, had suggested in early February that Vermont Yankee owner Entergy might shut the plant down this year, because it isn’ t generating enough cash. In short, it might be cheaper for Entergy to close it rather than keep it open.What the NRC is suggesting now is that the plant might not be financially viable enough to cover the cost of safely operating the 605 megawatt plant.UBS had said that the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and other older plants in the Entergy fleet, such as New York Fitzpatrick and Indian Point, 40 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, could become burdens to Entergy in the next few years. Already, Entergy has taken a charge on earnings against the uncertainty of Vermont Yankee’ s future. UBS suggested that shareholders may not be happy with a continued drain on the value of their company.On February 14, UBS Securities downgraded Entergy Corp’ s stock from ‘ neutral’ to ‘ sell.’ Following that report, its stock price, which had been down the last six months, fell a few points lower to its 52-week low of $61.09 (the high of $74.50 was reached last summer). It closed March 21 at $62.92 down $1.05 for the day.In its fiscal 2012 annual report, Entergy stated: asset impairment ($1.26 per share) of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant recorded in the first quarter of the current year contributed to the as-reported decrease.’ Entergy finished the year with earnings of $4.76 per share versus $7.55 per share in 2011.Julien Dumoulin-Smith of UBS Securities LLC said January 4 in a report that, “We believe both its New York Fitzpatrick and Vermont Yankee plants are at risk of retirement given their small size.” He questioned whether operating such plants at a loss made sense. UBS has said that Vermont Yankee is the most ‘ tenuously positioned plant.’ After Vermont Yankee committed to refueling that plant, Dumoulin-Smith told Vermont Business Magazine in February that he wouldn’t speculate on why Entergy decided to refuel Yankee, but said, ‘ It’ s clear that management has committed to operate the plant at a cash negative.’ VBM Editor Timothy McQuiston contributed to this report.
The committee’s leadership wrote that they are concerned that the federal Agency of Health and Human Services ‘is being negligent in its duties and as a result individuals and small businesses may be subjected to additional mandates that are not supported by the statute.’Representatives from HHS declined to comment.Darcie Johnston, director of Vermont Health Care Exchange and a prominent member of the Vermont Republican Party, is calling on the Shumlin administration to make the exchange voluntary for individuals and small businesses. Darcie Johnston. Courtesy photo.‘President Obama said when the (Affordable Care Act) was passed, ‘If you like what have, you can keep it.’There isn’t a small business in Vermont that can keep the same plan they have,’Johnston said. ‘If the intent of the act is what Obama said it was, then I would say the oversight committee is correct.’ Shawn Shouldice, Vermont director of the National Federation of Independent Business, has been up in arms about this provision since it was folded into Act 171 during the 2012 legislative session.‘The act very clearly prohibits compulsory participation in the exchange,’Shouldice said in a statement. ‘We’ve never understood how the Vermont health care exchange can compel small businesses and individuals to participate in the exchange, and we’re encouraged that finally someone in Washington is asking the same question.’Robin Lunge, director of Health Care Reform for the Shumlin administration, refuted claims that the bill doesn’t jibe with the Affordable Care Act.‘Our legal analysis shows the state cannot lose its traditional regulatory power with the passage of the ACA as long as it provides the minimum standards of that act,’she said. ‘The way the U.S. Constitution is set up is that all of the powers are reserved to the states except for those explicitly enacted by Congress. That’s the premise behind the way our Constitution was structured.’While Lunge would not comment on the so-called legal analysis, she emphasized the Consumer Choice Section of the act ‘simply indicates that the federal law does not prohibit an outside market, but is silent on state law.’Furthermore, Lunge, who is an attorney, pointed to a section of the law titled ‘No Interference with State Regulatory Authority,’which says, ‘Nothing in this title shall be construed to preempt any State law that does not prevent the application of the provisions of this title.’Lunge said the congressional letter is political.‘There are many members of Congress who oppose the affordable care act and they have attempted many times to repeal the act,’she said. ‘I can only speculate about the intent behind this letter, but it seems consistent with previous actions.’The congressional letter also quoted Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, as a source of opposition to the state’s mandating individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance on the exchange. But Bishop said she neither knew about her quote being used nor was it used in full context.‘Even in that quote, it didn’t oppose the exchanges, it just talked about how we’d prefer to have it established,’she said. ‘Our goal was to see that Vermont businesses have as many choices as allowed on the exchange and off the exchange.’Bishop says she doesn’t attach much weight to the letter, and the chamber would work with ‘not against the Shumlin administration ‘to implement the exchange as it has been crafted into state law.‘The likelihood that the House has any sway with the Obama administration is not really much,’she said. ‘I think we’re on track to open an exchange on Oct. 1, and everything the chamber has done for the past year is helping businesses prepare for that.’ by Andrew Stein July 2, 2013 vtdigger.org The Republican-dominated U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is questioning the legality of Vermont Health Connect, the state’s new health insurance marketplace. But the Shumlin administration’s top health care officials say the policy is sound.Vermont is one of 18 states creating its own insurance exchange, and state policy requires residents buying health insurance individually or through small businesses with 50 or fewer employees to purchase coverage on the state-run market. Friday, the House committee’s leadership sent a letter to Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, indicating that such mandates are illegal.SEE LETTERIn the letter top-signed by committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the congressmen wrote: ‘Plans by Vermont to restrict access to the insurance market outside the Exchange violate the principle of voluntary participation in Exchanges that was codified’in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Their letter came less than 100 days before the state is slated to open the exchange to more than 100,000 Vermonters on Oct. 1, and after more than $100 million in federal funds have been allocated to create this marketplace.The GOP congressmen point to two parts of the ‘Consumer Choice’section of the act, which say that health insurers and health insurance customers should not be prohibited from doing business outside of an exchange.ACA: Empowering Consumer Choice (p. 139)
In true Olympic spirit, Vermonters went for the gold and raised over $3,000 for local athletes with intellectual disabilities. Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel customers raised over $3,000 for Special Olympics Vermont last month. Pictured from left: Amanda Cashin, Marketing Director, Lenny’s; Bobbie Jo Roby, District Manager, Lenny’s; Lisa DeNatale, President and CEO, Special Olympics Vermont, Liza Reed, Special Events Manager, Special Olympics Vermont; Chris Bernier, Director of Marketing and Development, Special Olympics Vermont.Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel held a month-long change roundup in June, and the stores and its customers collectively raised $3,186.08 for Special Olympics Vermont. Lenny’s district manager Bobbie Jo Roby presented that donation to Lisa DeNatale, President and CEO of Special Olympics Vermont on Wednesday, July 10 at Lenny’s in Williston. Customers chose to roundup the change from their purchases to donate to Special Olympics Vermont. Nine lucky donors who made gold medal donations of $5 won Lenny’s gift cards ranging in value from $50 to $150. “Supporting local organizations is something our staff and customers are passionate about,” said Bobbie Jo. “Vermont is a small state where we can all ban together and make a big difference.”
GW Plastics Inc,GW Plastics opened the doors of their global headquarters in Bethel to celebrate Manufacturing Day 2013. This annual nation-wide event on October 4 was designed to expand public knowledge about manufacturing and its value to the US economy while addressing the national problem of skilled labor shortage. For GW Plastics, Manufacturing Day 2013 was more than just an opportunity to tell locals about their production and assembly operations.Bob Halaquist, GW Plastics Corporate Director of Quality Assurance, explains the central resin drying system to a group of Manufacturing Day 2013 visitors.One of GW’s focuses recently has been on creating more jobs in Vermont and encouraging young people to live and work locally. ‘It is almost impossible to recruit seasoned tool makers because of general economic uncertainty. Many talented individuals are unwilling take the financial risk associated with relocating for a new job. So we’re making our own molders and tool makers instead,’ said Tim Holmes, Vice President of Engineering at GW Plastics. ‘Our goal is to attract students at a young enough age that they will want to stay in Vermont and make a career here. We’re trying to do anything we can to give jobs to local residents and boost Vermont’s economy.’GW Plastics also used Manufacturing Day 2013 as an opportunity to integrate the company more deeply into the local community so that teachers and parents could become more knowledgeable about them. ‘So many people have said to me, ‘I drive by your building every day and have no idea what goes on in there’‘, said Human Resources Coordinator Amy Larkin. ‘We really want to raise community awareness and assimilate GW Plastics into our town.’Holmes welcomed the group of about 35 students and community members and gave a brief overview of what happens inside the headquarters, from the initial quoting process to manufacturing and distribution. Visitors were then divided into 3 groups, supplied with cleanroom gowns, head and beard covers, and given in-depth tours of the operational facilities where they were able to see first-hand how world-class manufacturing is accomplished. ‘Watching how the robots work was so fascinating,’ said Whitcomb High School students Jillian Hutchins and Ruth Flint. ‘The manufacturing plant was much bigger than we expected it to be. We had no idea that all of this was happening right next door to our school.’A group of Whitcomb High School students learn why clean room assembly is important in making world-class medical devices.The Manufacturing Day event was the perfect time for some former GW Plastics employees to return to the plant as well. Miriam Kill, who was an employee of GW Plastics from 1974-75, commented very positively on the new technology and upgrades that had occurred since she worked there. ‘It was just so impressive to see how everything has progressed. Robotics and automation are now doing what we used to do, so it allows employees to grow the business in other ways.’ After the plant tour, Human Resources Director Cathy Tempesta spoke to the group about the many benefits of working at GW Plastics. One of the most widely-used is tuition assistance, which allows many employees to attend college while GW Plastics pays the tuition. ‘Young people don’t realize that working for us can turn into a very satisfying career, and we want to do whatever we can to encourage students to be as successful in that career as they can be. Success starts with education, so we really push for our employees to become as educated as possible.’Source: GW Plastics, Inc, www.gwplastics.com(link is external). Since its foundation in 1955, GW Plastics has earned a reputation as a top contract manufacturer serving the world’s most successful companies in the healthcare, automotive safety, and consumer/industrial markets. Specializing in complex injection molded thermoplastic and silicone solutions, GW Plastics excels at close tolerance mold building, precision injection molding, and contract assembly. Core competencies include product development, in-house precision tooling, scientific molding, and automated assembly. With leading-edge technologies, a Six Sigma quality commitment, and a relentless pursuit of innovation, GW Plastics continues to attract and delight industry-leading customers who seek consistency of ownership, financial stability, a professional leadership team, and a workforce with the experience to deliver on-time and within budget. Headquartered in Bethel, Vermont, the company’s standardized ISO 9001, ISO 13485, ISO 14001, ISO/TS 16949 and FDA-registered manufacturing facilities are located in Bethel and Royalton, Vermont; San Antonio, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; QuerÃ©taro, Mexico; and Dongguan, China.
Susan L Donegan, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, announced today that more than $130,000 was returned to Vermonters who invested in an oil and gas exploration project in Texas. An additional $20,000 was paid in fees and penalties and a portion will go to the department’s investor education fund.’ An investigation by the department determined that Luther Gutknecht and Kenneth P Smith, both sales representatives for Surety Services LLC of Delaware, were doing business in Vermont but were not registered to do so.’ In June 2008, several Vermont residents were invited to Surety’s South Burlington office for a presentation by the president of the Texas company, AOE Operators. As a result, four Vermonters and one Vermont company purchased interests in the oil and gas rights of AOE. The shares were not registered in Vermont, which is also a violation of Vermont law.’ Donegan cautioned that investing in oil and gas projects can be especially risky. ‘ ‘Always be sure of where your money is going,’ she said, ‘before you invest, find out if the company and the sales people are registered to sell investments in Vermont. A quick call to the Department of Financial Regulation’s Securities Division can put your mind at ease.’Vermont Department of Financial Regulation 11.7.2013‘
Northstar Vermont Yankee,by John Herrick vtdigger.orgA hearing on Vermont Yankee Tuesday evening drew some pointed criticism over the state’s agreement with Entergy on the plant’s upcoming closure and proposed decommissioning.At the same time, others testifying before the quasi-judicial Public Service Board (PSB) argued the state’s agreement provides the best deal possible for when the 41-year-old plant closes at the end of 2014.Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River. File photo by Deborah Lazar/Special to The CommonsEntergy, the Louisiana-based plant operator, announced in August it would close the plant in 2014 for financial reasons ‘ just days after a federal court ruled the Vermont Legislature could not block the relicensure of the aging nuclear plant for a 20-year period. Yankee had been scheduled in its original license to shut down in 2012.The board is now deciding whether to grant Entergy a certificate of public good to operate its plant in Vernon until the end of the year under the conditions of the agreement.But residents from across the state questioned whether the plant operator will keep its promise with the administration, which is backing the pending one-year operating permit through the agreement.‘I have seen nothing that would indicate Entergy can now suddenly be trusted, despite the state of Vermont’s recent public statements otherwise. We need an independent site assessment for radiological decommissioning, spent fuel management and site restoration,’ said Ann Darling, a member of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, during Tuesday’s hearing.The state reached an agreement with Entergy on the closing and decommissioning of Vermont Yankee last year.Many residents also say the accord doesn’t go far enough to ensure a safe and quick phase out, some are calling for the plant’s immediate closure.‘Do you, the Public Service Board, really want to have any part in another ‘no underground pipes’ scenario?’ Darling asked the board in its televised hearing, referring to the controversy that erupted after Entergy denied it had underground pipes leaking radioactive water at the site and was proven wrong.Speaking from Brattleboro, Darling also said the council is not satisfied with the thermal discharge standards set by the state’s memorandum of understanding, which allows the plant to continue to discharge waste heat from cooling water into the Connecticut River.‘We must stop VY from heating up the river. Please make them use the cooling towers,’ she said.The memorandum of understanding, signed in December, allows Vermont Yankee to operate using current thermal discharge standards set by the Agency of Natural Resources-issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.Instead of using closed-cycle cooling, which includes using the plant’s cooling towers, Vermont Yankee will continue to mostly use river water to cool the plant, despite warnings that the water discharged is warming river water and may be killing off aquatic life.However, using the cooling towers year-round could cost the plant millions of dollars, said Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer with Fairwinds Energy Education and a longtime nuclear safety advocate and critic of the plant.He said that to stick this in the agreement would have stalled the deal Entergy made with the state.‘Keeping those cooling towers running all of the time likely would have been a deal-breaker. They don’t have the margins in that plant to give away 22 million (dollars),’ Gundersen said.Vermont Yankee dumps about two-thirds of the heat it generates into the Connecticut River, he said, while the remaining third is used to generate electricity.‘They don’t want to use the cooling towers because every cooling tower costs them about $1 million a year in electricity,’ Gundersen said. ‘It would be about $22 million if they were to run the cooling towers full time. So basically, the rights of the fish to have water that they can breathe and the rights of Entergy to make 22 million bucks is what we’re arguing about here.’In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said the plant will continue to operate under its existing thermal discharge permit until the end of the year, which includes the use of cooling towers if the river water exceeds certain temperatures.Recchia said other components of the agreement would have been jeopardized if the state required Entergy to adopt a new thermal discharge permit.‘If you made them incur that expense there, there would have been other impacts on the agreement,’ Recchia said, adding that ANR would have also needed more time to compose a new discharge permit.Through its agreement with the state, Entergy has promised to decommission the plant sooner than required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an issue that has been a key concern of Gov. Peter Shumlin, a longtime critic of Vermont Yankee and resident of Windham County. The agreement also settles all pending federal lawsuits and includes a laundry list of payments to the state.The payments include $5.2 million for the Clean Energy Development Fund, half of which goes to Windham County where the plant is located, and $10 million for economic development in the county, payable at $2 million per year for five years.Guy Page is communication director for Vermont Energy Partnership. Speaking from Brattleboro during the hearing, he said the plant is a reliable source of low-carbon energy that should continue to operate through the end of year.‘Now, the other thing that I see, I look at this settlement, on which the CPG is a condition of this settlement, and I look at $10 million for Windham County and there’s going to be, everyone agrees, a real problem with economic development. And that money will be a huge help,’ Page told the board. ‘Also, in your bailiwick, is the development of energy in Vermont: 90 percent renewable goal. And we all know that renewable power, one of its shortcomings ‘ well one of its difficulties ‘ is that it’s expensive to install. And this settlement has $5 million for the growth of renewable power in Vermont. And that money is how this stuff gets built.’Still, many of the residents who spoke during the televised testimony called on the board to issue tougher conditions on the plant’s final year of operation and the cleanup during decommissioning.However, Recchia said the board does not have the authority to amend the certificate of public good to include new conditions. Instead, the board will only decide whether to issue a permit given the information that has been submitted in the case, he said.The agreement will be canceled if the board does not issue Entergy a state permit by March 31.
Vermont Business Magazine Governor Peter Shumlin today at Union Elementary School in Montpelier celebrated a law that guarantees access to pre-kindergarten for all three and four year olds in Vermont. The law, which the governor signed in 2014, goes into effect July 1 and will ensure all Vermont kids have access to Pre-K this coming school year. Vermont is the first state in America to guarantee access to Pre-K for all three and four year olds.Governor Shumlin at Union Elementary School in Montpelier Thursday morning. Education Secretary Rebecca Holcomb is to the far left. Courtesy photo.The law, Act 166, requires communities to offer at least 10 hours per week of high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten education for 35 weeks annually to all “prekindergarten children.” Qualified pre-kindergarten programs include those operated by community programs, public schools, private early education and care programs, and Head Start.After passage of Act 166, a third of Vermont’s school districts moved forward with implementation, even though the law allowed them until this year to begin that process. As a result, Act 166 has increased access to programs for parents and the number of children in state funded Pre-K by 1,079.“Universal Pre-K is a win for children, taxpayers, working families, and employers,” Governor Shumlin said. “We all know that preparing children to enter elementary school ready to learn is one of the best ways and set up our next generation for success and avoid costly interventions later in life.”Universal Pre-K in Vermont represents a broader culture shift in Vermont as well. With more than 70 percent of Vermont children under age six having all their parents in the labor force, universal Pre-K is critical to supporting working families.Among the benefits of the law:Parents who work in towns outside their home communities can access pre-kindergarten for their young children closer to their jobs and with more regular hours. No longer will parents have to forego enrolling their children in high-quality early education programs because they can’t transport their child to and from the irregularly scheduled available hours. Now they have flexibility in enrollment, transportation, and wrap-around care.The cost of care and education is one of the biggest financial burdens to working families. Parents now have access to up to $3,000 of tuition reimbursement for each of their children. Accessibility to funding helps families of all income levels, while ensuring that their children are receiving quality care of the highest standards in Vermont.Employers will have a quality workforce in the future, employees who are more confident of the quality of their child’s early learning and development program, and a state policy making Vermont attractive to young talent who are seeking employment in a family-friendly state.Low-income children who have attended a pre-kindergarten program are more likely to be ready for kindergarten. Specifically, Vermont children from low-income backgrounds who don’t attend pre-kindergarten have a 30 percent probability of being kindergarten ready, while Vermont students from low-income backgrounds with one or two years of pre-kindergarten have up to a 55 percent probability of being kindergarten ready. This relationship is also present for more affluent students, although it is not as pronounced.At today’s ceremony, the governor made clear that this is the first step in ensuring equal access to Pre-K for all Vermont’s children and that work remains.“Now that we have made access universal, we need to ensure all Vermonters, regardless of income, are benefitting from the new law,” Shumlin said. “To do this, I have challenged my Agencies to work hard to identify ways to ensure all Vermonters are utilizing this important law, especially those low-income Vermonters who too often fall through the cracks.”
by John McClaughry Gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter, a Democrat, is an ardent believer in the idea that human –caused emissions of carbon dioxide will ultimately cause catastrophic “climate change” – “historic drought, fires, storm surge and seal level rise.” Accordingly she promises that her government will drive down CO2 emissions (“carbon pollution”), and make Vermonters rely on 90% renewable energy by 2050, no matter what.The most straightforward way of doing that is to get the legislature to levy increasingly burdensome taxes on all fossil fuels, until people can’t afford them anymore and switch to something else (or move away). That is the promise of the carbon tax, and it’s urgently advocated by a coalition named Energy Independent Vermont, shepherded by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG).But Minter rationally recognizes that a carbon tax levied by one little state like Vermont would not only have no detectable effect on the planet’s climate, but it would also cripple Vermont’s economy to the advantage of its neighbors. She has an alternative: a new Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to drive up the price of transportation fuels throughout the entire northeastern region.RGGI is a program that the legislature and the Douglas administration had Vermont join in 2006. The RGGI board sets caps on the amount of fossil fuel electricity generation allowed in each participating state. Then it distributes “CO2 allowances” to the nine state governments. If a coal, gas or oil burning utility emits CO2 in excess of the cap, it can switch to non-fossil sources (hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, biomass), or keep on burning fossil fuels by purchasing CO2 allowances from states that don’t need them. Both of these alternatives produce higher prices to consumers, just like a carbon tax.Vermont has no significant fossil fuel electric generation. All of Vermont’s CO2 allowances are thus available for sale out of state. The net effect for Vermont is that RGGI sucks in money from electricity ratepayers in other states and ships it here, where the Public Service Board uses it to subsidize energy efficiency, renewable energy installation, and similar programs.So why not the Minter plan, a RGGI cap and trade plan for gasoline and diesel fuel?Former Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg, who negotiated RGGI in 2006, says it could work where there are a few players (electric utilities) with strong legal, technical, economic and financial expertise. It worked just swell for Vermont, which pockets around $3 million a year by selling the allowances that RGGI allowed it to create for free.But, Wennberg says, it won’t work for motor fuels, where there are millions of individual consumers who won’t want to, or be able to, sort out the complex incentives. He says, “the [motor fuel] cap and trade system is nothing more than a complex bureaucratic tax by another name.” At least two other states – Maryland and Minnesota – abandoned this idea for just that reason.Unlike the power plant RGGI system, a motor fuel RGGI would require thousands of Vermont motorists, tourists, schools, farms, and businesses to face higher gasoline and diesel prices to keep their cars, trucks, buses, locomotives, tractors , RVs, snowmobiles and construction equipment on the road or on the job.And what would they get back? If the revenues from selling the CO2 allowances were assigned to subsidizing wind, solar and weatherization projects to fight “climate change”, a few would benefit, but the great majority would not.If the revenues were assigned to the Transportation Fund, everyone who drives or rides would get better maintained roads and bridges. But why go through creating and managing the very complex multistate organization, when just raising the motor fuel taxes would achieve the same result (without paying for RGGI)?The (somewhat unsatisfactory) answer to transportation RGGI skeptics is that Vermont has to show leadership in fighting the menace of climate change, reducing CO2 emissions, and proceeding to 90% renewable energy by 2050, no matter what the effects are on individual Vermonters. Hardly anyone would comprehend a complicated new RGGI to drive up motor fuel prices. People would just wonder, and grumble about, why they are paying more at the pump.The RGGI scheme would let climate change warrior candidates claim to be doing something, however useless, to battle climate change. It would also let them produce essentially the same result as a carbon tax – higher motor fuel prices at the pump – without having to openly advocate the universal carbon tax that voters might not welcome.Don’t be fooled.John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org(link is external)).