McClaughry: The third attempt to empty rural Vermont

By John McClaughry

Among economist Thomas Sowell’s many memorable observations is this one: “Liberty is the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves, and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their ‘betters.’”

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

That observation has been particularly relevant to efforts in Vermont on two long past occasions, and to one just emerging. In all three instances at issue is the liberty to live in the backwoods, beyond the asphalt roads, bringing in firewood for the long winters, and teaching self-reliance to their children to help them become sturdy and true Vermonters.

The first instance began in 1935, when officers of the New Deal Resettlement Administration arrived in the Vermont Statehouse with a generous deal. As then Speaker of the House, and later Governor and Senator, George Aiken recalled it, Vermont would turn over half the state — submarginal lands inhabited by people of inadequate mental capacity – to the federal government. “Miles of road would be abandoned, relieving the State and towns of the necessity of keeping them repaired. Schools would be abandoned, saving more expense.” The feds would lease the lands back to the State, “which would never again permit any of this land to be occupied as homes.”

The Vermont legislators politely told the Resettlement Administration to go back to Washington and not come back.

Fast forward to 1970. The people and their legislature were rightly concerned about waves of development overrunning the capacities of small Vermont towns. They enacted Act 250, imposing ten permit criteria for larger developments. But the Act also called for a State Land Use Plan, which would determine the correct use of every acre of the state.

The plan proposed by the Environmental Board’s experts in 1972 designated vast areas of rural Vermont as “conservation only.” After four years of bitter controversy and tumultuous public meetings, the last watered–down version of the Plan disappeared. In 1984 the legislature repealed the requirement that there even be a State Land Use Plan.

Today, thanks to the exertions of the Vermont Climate Council, comes a third attempt to get Vermonters out of the rural areas. The rationale: fighting “climate change.”

The VCC’s Climate Action Plan is aimed at “rural sprawl” that causes ‘fragmentation of intact forests, loss of agricultural land, an increase in cars and trucks on Vermont roadways and an increase in traffic, congestion, and emissions associated with vehicle travel, and a decline in community cohesion, among other negative impacts.” Or so their Plan asserts.

The Council‘s solution: “support the development of a statewide land use planning policy and implementation plan that guides development to growth areas, town centers, and appropriate rural locations, and limits the development within ecologically sensitive/riskprone areas.”

The statement issued by Gov. Scott’s eight appointees, including VCC chair Kristin Clouser, opposes state land use planning and objects to “a state-wide goal of ‘no net loss’ of natural and working lands, without the foundational building block: a clear definition of ‘natural lands. Absent a functional definition of ‘natural lands,’ the majority recommendation is overly broad, and overlooks how a ‘no net loss’ goal is to be reconciled with the pressing needs to construct more housing and more renewable energy generation identified elsewhere in the plan. The goal as presently articulated leaves little room for economic development in the rural parts of Vermont, where such activity is desperately needed.”

Council member Sean Brown, Gov. Scott’s Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, issued this dire warning for rural Vermonters: “When you say ‘no net loss of open land or working land’ that hits rural Vermont. When you talk about ‘no new development’ and focusing it [development] in downtowns, that hits rural Vermont. Transportation changes in this plan are going to hit rural Vermonters hard. Every part of this plan is going to hit rural Vermont, which is already economically disadvantaged in many ways.”

As I see it, what this comes down to is this: people who live out in rural areas are sort of a public nuisance, when the (supposed) global climate emergency demands that CO2 emissions be dramatically reduced through, among many other things, pushing or pulling people into favored compact settlements; and we need a State Land Use Plan to restrict the liberty of Vermonters to live where they choose to.

We’ve been down that road twice before, and liberty won out.

George Aiken explained it best in Speaking from Vermont (1938): “Why do folks live in the hills? …The reason is that some folks just naturally love the mountains, and like to be up there among them where freedom of thought and action is logical and inherent.”

Once again, Vermont’s country people need to be protected against “the raging presumptions of their betters.”

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR and John McClaughry

19 thoughts on “McClaughry: The third attempt to empty rural Vermont

  1. In case anyone wants to actually read the 273 page report to double check the selective reporting on the supposed third attempt to “empty rural Vermont” the link is:

    BTW, rural Vermont, where I live, has been emptying for decades, while the more densely populated parts of Vermont have been growing at the same time. Why? Aging infrastructure like telephone lines and lack of internet and cell, underfunding of rural schools, unfunded mandates on under resourced towns, making funding and technical assistance “available” instead of targeting to towns – usually rural – with the least capacity to apply for or realize the assistance. These factors work against economic development and job creation. Sticking your head in the sand is not a good strategy friends.

  2. Thank you for speaking truth to power, John McClaughry. We Vermonters will not go gently into that dark, urban, totalitarian night.

  3. The Comprehensive Energy Plan contains the same recommendation. At one of the public hearings recently, I commented and took issue with that section, pointing out that the claim that village centers follow historical settlement patterns is not accurate, certainly not for my town which was settled in the hills and only moved down in the valley because of the railroad, and the village center is in a flood hazard area as are a number of Vermont’s town centers.

    I pointed out that the idea that the whole concept of reducing vehicle miles traveled (thereby reducing emissions) is flawed, noting that I often stay home for weeks without being in a vehicle, working out of a home office with high speed fiber optic cable service (and a cow for milk and beef, chickens for eggs, freezer and root cellar full of vegetables).

    And if Burlington is any example of what is envisioned, no thank you. The idea of going there fills me with dread with all the traffic, much of which flees to rural areas at drive time.

  4. John,
    One of your finest (among many) and most needed commentaries.
    While the perps may ignore your wisdom and drive down the uphill lane, there are many more of us who are fed up with those who insist that they are more learned than most of the rest of us and, therefore, entitled to rule arbitrarily. Democracy is a province they don’t recognize. They proscribe a medicine which is more designed to assassinate than it is to secure. I, for one, prefer to follow your more sophisticated wisdom than to follow the bullies who would “guide” us to tread down their far more dangerous path.

  5. And Close Enough a celebration of that sentiment, John.

    Unfortunately, its the globalists behind the UN Sustainability Agenda 2021/30 that are driving this urbanization of rural Vermont – as if there is something wrong with it and it needs fixing. Get rid of Klaus Schwab and his sycophants, or secede – otherwise, this is a done deal.

    This is ALWAYS about the money – the IMF is funding Agenda 2021/30.
    Qui bono?

  6. It is the defining characteristic of Fascists that they are driven to control everything within their cognitive horizon. They are fanatics; they do not give up – ever. When thwarted, they characteristically become vicious. When they succeed in grasping control, taking it away when misused is more difficult than retrieving from a lion the springbok you shot for your dinner. They destroy cities, they destroy nations. We are now observing inflation, taxation, employment, supply chains, immigration, elections, national debt…. all going haywire. Murder and crime setting records. The havoc they are creating? Mussolini stated that Fascism was a method, through propaganda, through use of existing and government generated social upheavals and disruptions, to motivate the people to democratically demand centralized control by government to restore order and return civil function to normal. Centralized control is what they want; creating the circumstances necessitating it is what they are doing.

  7. Isn’t the potential disruption described of rural communities prohibited by the Global Warming Solution Act?

    The GWSA created the Just Transitions Subcommittee to ensure that strategies to reduce greenhouse gases also benefit and support all residents of the State fairly and equitably and not unfairly burden any groups, communities, geographic locations, or economic sectors……This protection includes rural areas.

    Here’s the applicable GWSA language:

    (3) Just Transitions Subcommittee. This subcommittee shall focus on ensuring that strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience to adapt to the effects of climate change benefit and support all residents of the State fairly and equitably. This subcommittee shall ensure that strategies consider the disproportionate impact of climate change on rural, low income, and marginalized communities and that programs and incentives for building resilience are designed to be accessible to all Vermonters and do not unfairly burden any groups, communities, geographic locations, or economic sectors. This subcommittee may adopt a measurement tool to assess the equitability of programs and strategies considered by the Council.

    • This is a feeble attempt at defending one of the most regressive pieces of skull doggery ever perpetrated on the Vermont citizenry. John Goodman as the cyclops in the movie “O Brother where art thou” said it best ” It’s all about the money boys…end of lesson”

      • Timothy…….I’m not defending anything especially the GWSA. My comments on TRN from well before GWSA became law make my position very clear……I have no use for the law, its undefined and expected to be exorbitant costs and what it will accomplish in mitigating climate change, which in my view is nothing.

        I’m simply pointing out language in the law that appears to me to contradict John’s piece on the impact on Vermont’s rural communities. The law appears to me to protect rural communities…….If you or anyone else read the GWSA language differently, please share your thoughts on where I’m wrong.

        If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time……But first make a case to support your remarks that go beyond a quote from fiction.

        • I wonder how rural Vermonters are going to heat their houses if they are no longer allowed to install propane and oil heating systems in their homes? Heat pumps? Not very likely without two new nuclear power plants in Vermont or rolling blackouts in the dead of winter. We can all go back to wood heat which will require cutting down every tree in Vermont and choking all of us with a flue efficiency of 25 percent. The GWSA language may say it protects rural communities, the reality is something different entirely.

          • I guess that I’m just an old fashioned Conservative that expects the laws to be followed……..A belief that I thought all real Conservatives held.

          • It will get interesting when the make-believe world of unelected Montpelier bureaucrats (the crowd proclaiming things that are no longer allowed) meets the real world of rural Vermonters who know how to make things happen and don’t really care what’s on some prohibited list.
            There’s no enforcement mechanism so it’s all merely voluntary.

  8. ‘Once again, Vermont’s country people need to be protected against “the raging presumptions of their betters.” ‘
    The statement its self is presumptuous in that no politician should be considered better than the citizenry. They are supposed to be their equal. Nazis considered themselves better than others. It’s a common short coming of ruling elitists.
    This current relocation fervor snacks of “Blitterdorfism”.

    • Yep, that’s about right. In 2015 Blittersdorf gave a talk to Addison County Democrats (here’s the video in which he prognosticated about the future, how much wind and solar Vermont would need, etc.

      Before that, Deb Sachs (who turns out to be Blittersdorf’s girlfriend) got a contract to write the energy chapter of the Rutland Regional Plan. She showed up with David at the meeting where it was presented for review. The chair said “this isn’t OUR plan”. It said Rutland County would have to have 100 MW of wind (at a time Rutland County towns had rejected about that much industrial wind), weatherize a fantastic number of homes, and had numbers attached to how many people would move out of rural areas and into cities. Too bad the RRPC wasted a lot of money paying for getting their energy plan hijacked.

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