Green V. Green Battle Lines Are Drawn In Environment Disputes

John Bicknell | Executive Editor,

The 18th century has invaded Vermont, bringing with it the Age of Enlightenment’s fondness for self-destructive revolution, religious schism and windmills.

If the French of the 1790s taught us that all revolutions devour their own children, then the corporate environmentalists of Vermont now devouring the green descendants of the children of the 1960s learned the lesson well.

The environmental movement is often portrayed as nature-loving greens against black-hatted oilmen, but a different picture has emerged in Vermont: a battle between environmentalists themselves – Big Green vs. green NIMBYs – with both sides duking it out over Act 250, which governs environmental and developmental concerns in the state. The biggest winners are likely to be the crony capitalists hawking renewable energy on the taxpayers’ dime — and maybe the conservatives chuckling at the internecine fighting on the left.

The losers: the ordinary citizens footing the bill, and the bucolic scenery of the Green Mountain State.

For decades, Vermont has been a bastion of environmental rectitude.

The enactment in 1970 of one of the nation’s toughest land use laws – Act 250 – was a signal moment in the history of both Vermont and the environmental movement. But somewhere along the line, a movement aimed at the preservation of nature morphed into one determined to impose its will, with the help of taxpayer subsidies, even on those who had been first to the barricades.

And so the battle line was drawn.

If everyone can appreciate billboard-free highways, not everyone sees the same benefit from industrial-size green-energy projects, even those sympathetic to the state’s ambitious – some say absurd – goal of producing 90 percent of its power from renewables by 2050.

As Bruce Parker of Vermont Watchdog has reported, Vermont’s push to go green has created many victims: Don and Shirley Nelson have been under a decade-long gag order for disputing the Lowell Mountain wind project; Robin Clark can’t obtain the results of noise testing done on 440-foot turbines near her home; and Luann Therrien left Sheffield to escape sleeplessness and health issues related to wind towers.

Now the holier-than-thou sanctimony of environmental extremism is being hoisted by its own sustainable petard in the state that is one of the crown jewels of the movement.

Exhibit A: the Green Mountain corporatist Robespierres who threatened to prosecute Annette Smith, founder of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, for having the temerity to stand against unsightly green-energy development.

Smith offers advice to towns that oppose solar and wind plants. For that, she was the target of a criminal investigation for practicing law without a license.

Moving beyond the self-devouring example of the French Revolution, the strife in Vermont begins to resemble nothing quite so much as a religious schism in which the official state church – environmentalism – is riven by competing claims of orthodoxy.

Anyone found to be on the other side is an apostate. Smith, in daring to stand in the way of the holy sacrament of renewable energy – however badly sited or disruptive to local communities – proved herself a heretic.

Vermont’s attorney general closed the investigation without taking any action, so Smith can perhaps count herself lucky that burning heretics at the stake is out of fashion — maybe it would release too much carbon into the atmosphere (ironically, the same argument made about fossil fuels by those pushing windmills and solar farms on people who don’t want them).

This battle is being fought on many fronts beyond Vermont. Tussles are breaking out all across the country about whether to house vast arrays of solar panels on or near public lands and what to do about the bird carnage wrought by windfarms.

As defenders of nature as it now exists line up against those who claim to be defending nature from some potential future threat, let’s hope nature itself does not get caught in the crossfire, and that taxpayers are not handed the bill when the war is over.

John Bicknell is executive editor of, a nonprofit public-interest journalism publication.

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