5-24-16 – Vermonters Fed Up with VPIRG and Their Agenda

by Rob Roper

A remarkable editorial appeared in Vermont Digger this week. Remarkable not so much for what it said, but for who said it how many readers loudly echoed its message. The article is Where’s the Public Interest in VPIRG’s Lobbying, and the author is Keith Ballek, a member of his town and county Democratic Party organization and a delegate to the Vermont State Democratic Committee.

Ballek’s message is simple: VPIRG has basically become a lobbying firm for big corporate renewable energy businesses. He concludes, “It’s become painfully obvious that VPIRG has sold its soul to the very corporate interests from whom they are supposed to be protecting the public.” This is no great revelation for EAI readers. We have been pointing this out for several years, but for a high-ranking Democratic Party official to see the light and sound the alarm so forcefully is remarkable, and illustrates that there is bipartisan frustration with Vermont’s renewable energy policy.

Perhaps even more enlightening (and encouraging) are the comments that follow Mr. Ballek’s piece. Readers go into great detail about the links between VPIRG board members and donors and the private renewable companies that they own and run, particularly the unseemly, for-profit spinoff of VPIRG, SunCommon.

Michelle DaVia commented, for example, “Paul, Why are two owners of SunCommon on the VPIRG Board? How is that NOT a clearly apparent conflict of interest that VPIRG did not think would taint them? Has Duane Peterson or Mathew Rubin disclosed to the VRIPG Board the multiple SunCommon foreign owned Sun CSA subsidiary’s and their function or exact connection to SunCommon?”

Annette Smith added, “In reviewing legislation about net metering, I find it interesting that many of the regulatory thresholds are for 150 kW. SunCommon specializes in “Community Solar Arrays” that are mostly 150 kW. The 150 kW installations escape quite a few regulatory requirements that a 151 and larger project kW project must meet. Gotta wonder how many gifts James and VPIRG got into legislation to provide SunCommon with preferential treatment through the regulatory process.”

Here’s the scam. By “donating” to a non-profit group, these big moneyed interests have essentially hired a lobbying firm – without having to comply with lobbyist disclosure laws. And, not for nothing, shrouding their special interests in a cloak of public interest, though it seems the bloom is off that rose.

Even more striking about the Digger article is the total lopsidedness of the commentary. VT Digger has added Facebook-esqe thumbs up/thumbs down feature. When VPIRG executive director, Paul Burns weighed in to defend his organization, as of this writing the “thumbs down” is outpacing the “thumbs up” 86 to 11. Other comments receive similar results.

It’s good to see that Mr. Ballek’s eyes are open to the corruption of VPIRG and the unseemly relationships between its big donors and the companies they run at the expense of taxpayers and the wishes of local communities. The next step for Mr. Ballek might be to investigate what politicians those same donors are giving big money to – fertilizing both sides of the lobbying effort. He might find he has to do some soul searching regarding his own political party.

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John McClaughry May 28, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Great piece, Ed, Annette,and Rob. For years I have labelled VPIRG as a wholly owned subsidiary of the renewable industrial complex, and Peter Shumlin as “the Senator from VPIRG” (2007!). Maybe some others are catching on.


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