Daily Chronicle: Drones, pension funds, China tariffs top holiday news list

By Guy Page

In the holiday spirit of making lists, the Vermont Daily Chronicle offers 11 random news items, corrections and clarifications.

Trade war with China affects Vermont hardwood lumber and granite industries. Tariffs have reduced hardwood sales to China, especially red oak. They’ve also reduced imports of Chinese granite. Impact is varied. Vermont Daily Chronicle is reliably informed that demand for other Vermont hardwoods is still healthy and sawmills are doing okay despite the tariffs. Vermont granite suppliers reportedly are seeing increased sales, while Vermont-based fabricators who have relied on cheaper Chinese granite reportedly have seen cost increases.

Guy Page

Good news, not-so-good news from drug-legal Portugal. Vermont legislators pushing for complete decriminalization of possession and consumption of all hard drugs (including heroin and fentanyl) often cite the Portugal success story. The good news from Portugal is that deaths by opiate overdose are way, way down – just 30 Portugese died by overdose last year in a nation of 6.6 million people. That’s spectacular. However, one in every 200 citizens is a heavy opiate user – on the high side for Europe, although not the highest.

Strong stock market gives VT pensions double-digit return. The roaring U.S. stock market gave Vermont’s three state pension funds a 12.3% return for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Good news for Vermont teachers, state employees, and municipal workers relying on their pension for a secure retirement. Still, years of severe underfunding by the Legislature has left the pension fund underfunded to meet its longterm commitments. Former House Minority Leader Don Turner so far is the most high-profile public leader to call for a pension system that defines just contributions, and not benefits.

Jews for gun rights say, ‘Never again!’ A group called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership on November 20 posted this criticism of judges who seem unwilling to enforce the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It was sent to Vermont Daily Chronicle by a Lamoille County resident who said: “Their motto is ‘you don’t have to be Jewish to fight by our side’. I have belonged to this group for many years because there is no doubt about what they stand for. When JPFO says “NEVER AGAIN” they absolutely mean it.”

State police use drone to help Secret Service for Pence visit.  In a Nov. 25 report mandated by the Vermont Legislature, the Vermont State Police and Capitol police reported their use of drones: “The Vermont State Police report deploying a drone once within the previous 12 months to aid in a protection detail for the US Secret Service. With consent from the homeowners, the UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] provided overview footage of both properties the Vice President of the United States, Michael Pence stayed at during a family vacation in Hubbardton, Vermont.” The VSP UAS program costs $103,000, not including about $16,000 for training. Capitol Police used drones twice – once to help state and Montpelier police search for a missing person, and twice to inspect the State House Dome at the request of VT Buildings and Grounds Services.

Converting wind/solar energy into pipeline gas.  supporters of natural gas pipelines are telling renewable-only states to not be too quick to ban pipeline expansion. A young but proven technology converts electricity (including wind and solar) into hydrogen gas, which can be sent via pipeline to power plants. Renewable power industry advocates have long opposed any pipeline expansion, saying it would keep Vermont reliant on natural gas for the rest of the century.

TCI probably must go before Legislature, Speaker says. Vermont Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson last week told VDC the proposed Transportation Climate Initiative probably would have to be voted on by the Legislature before it could take effect. She qualified her answer because, like everyone else, she’s waiting to see the final plan, due to be released by the TCI national organization in December. Until now Vermont’s work on the 13-state initiative – dubbed a ‘stealth carbon tax’ by VDC and others – has been conducted solely by executive branch leaders, notably Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke.

So far, there’s been no angry denunciation from climate change activists over the Vermont Supreme Court decision that may likely force Morrisville Water & Light to close one or more hydro dams. This small municipal utility has been keeping the lights on for decades with locally-sourced, carbon-free hydro power. Now that’s in danger because the court agreed with a state environmental agency that fish habitat trumps energy generation (and recreation).

Report recommends: make Vermont “Age Friendly.” Another report issued Nov. 25 calls for state and local agencies and government to make Vermont an “Age Friendly” state, per the recommendations of the Vermont AARP. The Older Vermonters Act Working Group Report lists dozens of specific recommendations – including importing workers from Quebec to solve the chronic labor shortage in elder care.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.

Image courtesy of Public domain