Burlington Free Press
Local News    Wednesday, March 21, 2001        
Governor Howard Dean talks about coal-fired power plant

By Nancy Bazilchuk
Free Press Staff Writer

Vermont ought to consider building new electric power plants in the northwestern part of the state, even a coal-fired power plant, Gov. Howard Dean said Tuesday.

"We need (electric) generating capacity in northwestern Vermont, and we are overly dependent on natural gas," Dean said. "This is not a proposal, but this is intended to spur discussion. The whole point is to get Vermonters to think about having a power plant in their back yard. We are going to have to have one."

Dean's comments came in reaction to the rolling blackouts that hit California on Tuesday. He says Vermont is in no immediate danger of such problems but policymakers need to face the future.

In the next 15 years, the state's two biggest long-term sources of power, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, and hydroelectric power from Hydro-Quebec, will cease to supply the state with power.

Vermont Yankee is licensed to operate until 2012, and Hydro-Quebec is under contract to sell power to Vermont until 2015. The two energy sources account for about two-thirds of the 1,000 megawatts of electricity Vermont needs.

Dean said he doesn't want to import dirty coal-fired power plants from the Midwest to solve Vermont's problems, but he thinks new technology is available to build coal plants that could provide power with a minimum of pollution.

Dean's comments sent shudders through the environmental and energy conservation communities. Vermont has a long-standing history of battling with Midwestern coal plants over the pollutants that bring acid rain to Vermont.

Vermont also vigorously opposed a modern coal-fired power plant proposed in the early 1990s for a small town outside Albany, N.Y. The state argued that even the diminished emissions from a clean coal plant would hurt Vermont's air quality. The argument helped defeat the proposal in 1994.

Vermont's Comprehensive Energy Plan, adopted in 1998, cautions against clean coal technology because it cannot eliminate carbon dioxide pollution, a substance that's one of the chief culprits in global climate change.

David Blittersdorf, a wind energy expert and chief executive officer of NRG Systems in Hinesburg, said he was deeply troubled to hear that Dean was even saying the word "coal."

"That is absolutely wrong," he said. "We have been trying real hard to get the governor and the state to become aware of what renewables can do. I think people don't want to listen."

Blittersdorf said Vermont's windy landscape could easily turn enough windmills to provide 1,000 megawatts. The problem is money; because renewable energy sources aren't widely used, they're costly. The Legislature is considering a bill that would provide tax credits for investment in renewable energy technology, such as wind and solar power.

Mark Sinclair, head of the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation, said the governor should consider highly efficient combined-cycle natural gas power plants rather than coal.

"It is just the complete wrong direction," he said of the governor's thinking. "CLF will take all efforts to stop the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Vermont."

N.H. environmentalists worry about coal-fired plant in Vermont
By J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press, 3/21/2001 14:54

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) New Hampshire environmentalists are dismayed that Vermont Gov. Howard Dean would consider building a coal-fired power plant in the northwestern part of his state.

On a call-in radio show Tuesday, Dean said Vermont needs a new power plant and that it should be coal-fired. He acknowledged the move would be controversial, but said his state needs the power.

In a later interview with The Associated Press, Dean seemed to back off the proposal, saying he was just trying to provoke debate. But he wouldn't entirely discount the possibility of such a plant.

''I think coal's definitely on the table if you can find the technology to make it clean enough. ... I don't want to underplay the idea of a coal plant,'' he said.

That has environmentalists in New Hampshire concerned, especially since Vermont has worked with neighboring states to urge federal crackdowns on coal-fired plants in the Midwest.

''It's clearly the wrong approach,'' Steve Blackledge, director of New Hampshire Public Interest Research Group, said Wednesday. ''Coal plants pollute more than other fossil fuels. And if Governor Dean wants diversity in fuel source, he should be pushing clean renewables.''

Officials and environmentalists in New England have complained that pollutants released from coal-burning plants in the Midwest drift into their region as acid rain.

''The science is in and it's pretty compelling,'' said Charles Niebling, spokesman for the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests. ''And we are downwind from Vermont.''

Because those plants were built before the federal Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, they are exempt from its strict guidelines limiting most power plant emissions.

Blackledge said that any new plant built in Vermont would need to adhere to those standards, but that anyone who believes so-called ''clean coal'' plants don't pollute is mistaken.

''It would be cleaner than (those in the Midwest), but yes, there is some irony in the fact that he wants to get tough on coal plants in the Midwest and is proposing to build one in Vermont at the same time,'' Blackledge said.

Even Dean's own Department of Public Service seems to be at odds with the idea. In 1998 the department issued a report saying clean coal technologies have proved unable to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal.

''I'm a little surprised and distressed to learn that the governor of Vermont seems to think that a new direction in Vermont's energy policy requires more coal-fired power plants, given what we know about the contribution coal-fired plants to air pollution,'' Niebling said.

But Craig Wright, head of the Air Permitting Division of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said New Hampshire could influence the location of any new plant in Vermont.

In particular, New Hampshire has two areas that receive special federal protection from air pollution. Both are in the White Mountain National Forest and comprise about 26,000 acres around Mount Washington.

''Depending on how close to the border the plant was, then of course the plant could have certain air impacts in New Hampshire and I assume whatever air impact studies they do would take that into account,'' he said.

Pamela Walsh, spokeswoman for New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, said it was too soon to say much about the proposal since the advantages of coal would need to be weighed against the financial cost of keeping its emissions clean.

''We need to ensure that any new power plants, no matter what they burn, meet the kinds of emission standards the governor has proposed in her clean power strategy,'' Walsh said.

New Hampshire is considering legislation to cut emissions from its three coal- and oil-fired power plants.

Under the New Hampshire Clean Power Strategy, the state's three plants in Bow, Newington and Portsmouth will have five years to reduce sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions by 75 percent, nitrogen oxides by 70 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions by 7 percent.

Dean calls for new coal-fired power plant in Vermont, later backs off
By David Gram, Associated Press, 3/21/2001 10:34

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) A Maine environmental group says the Vermont governor's suggestion that a new coal-fired power plant is needed in that state is ''a bad idea'' and represents ''backward thinking.''

Gov. Howard Dean made the comment on Tuesday, saying Vermont needs the power source to meet the state's growing energy demands.

''We need a new power plant in Vermont,'' Dean said on the Mark Johnson Show on WKDR-AM in Burlington and WDEV-AM in Waterbury. ''I frankly think it should be a coal-fired power plant. That's going to be tremendously controversial, but we need to have one.''

In a later interview with The Associated Press, Dean gave mixed signals. He began by saying of his radio comments, ''That was a throwaway. All I was trying to do was provoke debate.''

But he added moments later, ''I think coal's definitely on the table if you can find the technology to make it clean enough. ... I don't want to underplay the idea of a coal plant.''

Sue Jones, air project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said she was surprised Dean would say such a thing, since Vermont has some of the nation's cleanest air.

''Out and out it's a bad idea, it's a bad precedent, bad for the environment and bad for public health,'' Jones said.

She said many cleaner forms of power are readily available, including renewable energy, such as wind farms, and natural gas.

Dean said the best part of Vermont for a new power plant would be in northwestern Vermont, which has seen the most growth in demand recently and where the electric system is said to be straining to meet demand.

''A power plant in northwestern Vermont you can throw Addison County into the mix as well somewhere in there is the most sensible place to put one,'' Dean said.

A coal plant in Vermont would appear to run counter to a ''comprehensive energy plan and greenhouse gas action plan'' issued by Dean's Department of Public Service in 1998.

''Because a vast reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is necessary to mitigate the potential impacts of global warming, and because coal emits more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than any other fuel source, carbon dioxide emissions from coal must be reduced,'' the department's report said.

It added that ''clean coal'' technologies have proven unable to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal. Those technologies generate more solid waste. Sending waste to landfills ''could result in harmful chemicals leaching into the groundwater,'' the department said.

Dean's comments drew a rebuke from one Vermont environmental group that has followed energy issues closely. ''He ought to read his own energy plan,'' Mark Sinclair of the Conservation Law Foundation said.

Richard Sedano, who was public service commissioner when it issued its energy plan, said it would surprise him if developers came forward to try to build a coal-fired power plant in Vermont.

''In my nine years as commissioner I don't remember anybody coming to me and saying, `I'm a business person providing energy and I would like to build a coal plant in Vermont,''' Sedano said.

He added, ''I think it's good for the governor to start a conversation about our future energy needs in Vermont.''

The Maine environmental group's Jones said a call for coal plants represents ''backward thinking in this day and age.''

Dean said he believes strongly that Vermont needs to begin planning now to build new generating sources within its borders. He noted that the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant's license expires in 2012, and that Vermont's power import contract with Hydro-Quebec phases out in the latter half of that decade.

Most new power plant construction in New England in recent years has been fueled by natural gas. Dean said coal would be preferable because the region is becoming too reliant on an energy source that has seen major price spikes recently.

''We have a lot of gas and we have no coal. We need that,'' he told the radio audience.

Later, he said in an interview, ''The serious issue is not whether we're going to have a coal plant,'' he said. The real problem, he said, is that ''there's enormous resistance to siting generating capacity in Vermont and we need generating capacity.''

Burlington Free Press

What will Vermont do to meet its future energy needs?

First, I'd like to thank The Burlington Free Press for focusing on the issue of Vermont's future energy needs -- and supply. This is a conversation we as a state should be having today on Main Streets and on the editorial pages.
Second, as I expect most newspaper readers now know, I am not pushing for a coal-fired power plant in Vermont. End of discussion.
So let's focus on what really is important in this debate: How is this state going to meet its energy needs five, 10 and 20 years into the future? If there is one lesson to be learned from today's rolling blackouts in California, it is that we in Vermont are going to have to make choices about our power sources.
Consider the facts:
-- By 2016, we stand to lose 308 megawatts of power with the expiration of the Hydro Quebec contract;
-- By 2012, we will lose 225 megawatts with the planned shut-down of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon;
-- By 2012, we could find ourselves dependent upon one major energy source -- natural gas -- for 38 percent of our power (increasing to 69 percent in 2016), making Vermont ratepayers vulnerable to price fluctuations in that market;
At the same time, the demand for power will climb 1 percent to 2 percent annually. To meet our energy needs in the coming years, we need to start the discussion now. I remain a strong advocate for renewable energy, believing that sources like solar and wind power will play a critical role. In addition, I continue to support conservation efforts that reduce demand.
We need to be realistic and consider all options, including the siting of a generation plant, in meeting our future energy needs. What are the options? We cannot seriously consider locating a nuclear plant in Vermont because there is no safe disposal for the waste.
Among the other sources -- each with pros and cons -- for Vermonters to consider:
-- Biomass, including novel wood gasification technologies pioneered at Vermont's own McNeil Generating Plant. While expensive, this holds promise.
-- Coal, which provides affordable power, but at this point still presents environmental challenges;
-- And natural gas, which is already an option for Vermont, but as I've said, we risk becoming too dependent on this single source in the future.
None is the ideal solution; there are benefits and drawbacks to each, but along with conservation and renewables, we as a state need to begin to discuss all the options to diversify our supply, hold down our rates and keep our lights on.
Gov. Howard Dean is a Democrat.

What is the price of having 'clean' electricity?

Recently, Gov. Howard Dean mused that, to ensure Vermont had sufficient supplies of electricity in the future, the state might even need to consider building a coal-fired generating plant. The resulting hue and cry, including that from the Free Press editorial board, was so strident that he might as well have proposed a state holiday celebrating child molesters.
Does this mean Vermont should construct coal plants to generate electricity? Not necessarily, but the uproar highlights the continuing disingenuous policy prescriptions of business, the environmental community and not a few politicians.
So what do we in Vermont want? Well, the protracted and polarizing four-year rate case battle between the state and Green Mountain Power over the "above-market" costs of the Hydro-Quebec contract apparently means we want cheaper electricity, but we also want clean, renewable electricity. Of course, while "small" hydro is renewable, "big" hydro, like Hydro-Quebec, is not. How about wind? Sounds good, but recall the outcry over building the Searsburg wind project -- and its potential impact on views, birds, bears, and who knows what else? Not to mention that the business community was opposed to its admittedly high costs.
We want conservation, too. Of course, the best way to get folks to conserve electricity is to increase its price, but we already know that's a no-no. So, we formed a new government agency, the "Efficiency Utility," to deliver conservation to the deserving, which is happily spending millions of taxpayer dollars -- just look at your monthly electric bill -- doing just that. Lastly, we want "distributed generation," a "small-is-beautiful" approach to electric generation where neighborhoods, and even individual homes and businesses, would have micro-turbines, windmills, fuel cells, in their own back yards. Just think of the local environmental outcry over that.
It seems the hypocrisy of our state's energy policy, if one wants to call it that, knows no bounds. During the Green Mountain Power rate case, all the parties involved -- GMP, the Legislature, the governor's office, and the PUC and DPS -- scattered like roaches under the glare of a kitchen light when it came to assigning responsibility for signing the contract. "It's too expensive!" came the cry. It will always be too expensive! We need competition to rein in Vermont's utilities!
Now, four years later, in the light of California's descent into a morass that years worth of failed state energy policies there created, maybe Hydro-Quebec isn't so expensive after all. We want competition, it seems, but only if we're guaranteed lower prices. We want enough electricity to avoid those California-style blackouts, but heaven forbid anyone who dares suggest building new generation in Vermont. We want ugly power lines buried -- as long as we don't have to pay the extra cost of doing so. It's OK if someone else pays, however.
Most everyone agrees that electricity is important in our lives today, so it's strange that people who gladly pay $50 or more every month for the latest satellite-based, digital, 200-channel cable TV service scream about their outrageous electric bills. It's strange that the governor cannot even contemplate new sources of electricity for the state without a cosmic furor erupting.
It's strange that, despite years of studies, many in the Legislature continue to ignore -- or simply cannot comprehend -- the most basic of all economic principles: scarce resources.
So what will it be, Vermont? Cheap but dirty electricity? Ultra clean but expensive? Will we take responsibility for siting new generation here or, like California, will we insist that generating supplies be built in somebody else's back yard. What tradeoffs are we willing to make, for we will have to make them. How much are we willing to pay for "clean" electricity, and who among us will bear those costs? Do we want the long-term benefits of competition or are we unwilling to bear any of the risks that competition necessarily brings?
Some years ago, during a Legislative Committee meeting on electric restructuring, I recall hearing one of our more astute Progressive legislators thunder that no one held Adam Smith, the most famous proponent of competition and free markets, in more contempt than he. While I privately thought that no one had less of an understanding of Adam Smith than he, that remark has always stuck with me. For it epitomizes the bankruptcy -- pun intended -- of our state's current electric policy. Unfettered competition might not be the answer for meeting Vermont's future electric needs, but until we ask ourselves what those needs are and clarify the tradeoffs we are willing to make to meet them, then bankrupt our policy will remain.
Jonathan Lesser is a consulting economist in Williston.

Why is Gov. Dean brushing aside strategies for energy conservation?

Say it isn't so! Don't tell us that Vermont's very own Gov. Howard Dean is pulling a "George Dubya." When the President left his newly appointed head of the EPA, Christie Todd Whitman, out to dangle in the breeze over the carbon dioxide issue, I thought it was a sad commentary for the nation, but who'd expect as much from the governor of the nation's No. 1 ranked green state?
Wasn't it Dean's own Natural Resources Secretary Scott Johnstone who proclaimed in a Jan. 13 Burlington Free Press guest opinion that "each of us can stave off the perils of global warming" and other environmental degradation by using less energy?
In the 2001 winter edition of the "Vermont Environmental Report," Rich Cowart, former chair of the Vermont Public Service Board, put it this way: "I would say that it is the responsibility of government to create opportunities for consumers to lessen their demands on the electric system. When presented with these opportunities in a way that values them properly, users will quite rightly modify their electric demand, lower their bills and lower the total cost of providing energy services on the grid."
Johnstone gets it. He understands that, when it comes to energy, the economy and the environment, policy goal No. 1 for the 21st century is to use less. He gets that the potential for energy savings through conservation measures is enormous.
Why then did we see Dean stake out his position in a March 21 press conference that Vermont needs to diversify its power-generating supply by building a coal-fired, electric-generating plant in northwestern Vermont? Why did he state that while conservation measures and renewable technologies might be laudable concepts, they aren't enough?
The Governor's office reports that Dean's remarks were designed to provoke discussion on the issue. To be sure, there is plenty of room for discussion on the issue of an energy policy for Vermont. As a matter of fact, a robust discussion is in order. The role of a responsible leader should be not only to provoke, but to guide that discussion. The direction that this Governor is suggesting we take is, in the words of our friends at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, "a bad idea, bad precedent, bad for the environment and bad for public health."
Let's make sure that we implement a balanced energy policy for Vermont that gives due respect to conservation and renewable sources. The state's 1998 comprehensive energy plan, "Fueling Vermont's Future," recommends as much. If we look at the supply demand equation, ignoring the potential for resolving the imbalance from the demand side, we are missing a huge opportunity.
Creating a strategy for modest improvements in energy efficiency and in load-management statewide could make Vermont the energy policy leader in the nation. Let's go for it!
Elizabeth Courtney is executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council in Montpelier.

Letters to the Editor

Renewable's the fix

How many brownouts, black outs and power shortages does it take for us to realize that renewable energy is the only long-term solution?
California's recent difficulty makes it clear that our appetite for electricity is greater than our ability to satisfy it.
I am surprised that Gov. Howard Dean even considered the idea of building a coal-fueled plant in Vermont. He's smarter than that. It would only be a Band-Aid and the picture on it would be Smokey the Smog.
Coal and oil that took eons to form are running out fast, but what sources of energy are limitless? Wind and water; clean, renewable and inexpensive in the long run. Once they are in place, the maintenance costs are minuscule compared to that of oil drilling rigs.
Isn't a windmill a good trade-off for acid rain, smog and black outs? Maybe when the cost of fossil fuel energy impacts the American pocketbook, the message will creep up from hip to brain.
I'd be proud to have a windmill in my back yard and I'll bet my neighbors would be happy to buy my cheap excess energy.

IRV eliminates charades

Recent suggestions from Gov. Howard Dean demonstrate once again the need for instant runoff voting and a more searching democracy. In the last election, Dean, under the challenge of a strong and genuine environmentalist, made efforts to charade as an environmentalist. Only a few months later, he now proposes extinguishing citizen participation in Act 250, and considers a coal plant as an energy alternative for Vermont.
Dean has gotten a lot of political mileage out of being a pediatrician. It appears another costume as he encourages use of coal while children's asthma rates climb rapidly.
Let a sincere leader emerge. Instant runoff voting would allow a broader field of candidates, motivated by sources beyond the contributions of the big parties, to run for office.
Instant runoff voting would allow voters to number the candidates in order of preference rather than choosing only one. Voters would no longer have to worry about wasting a vote on a candidate they support, yet has little chance of winning.
Support the instant runoff voting bill.

Think long term

Sam Hemingway's column, "Why isn't Vermont taking renewable energy seriously?" (Free Press, March 23) was timely and pertinent.
Gov. Howard Dean's calling for a coal-fired power plant as a solution to our energy needs mirrors the White House's strategy to simply drill all the possible oil out of the earth. Both strategies are short-sighted and disappointingly dependent on faith in business as usual.
For decades, we have known that our reliance on fossil fuels was unsustainable. With California as our warning, and with different energy contracts due to run out and/or change in the next decade, this is the time to think beyond the next few quarters or years. We need to think in terms of generations.
Because of its size and historic care for the environment, Vermont could be in the vanguard of development of solar, biomass and wind technologies -- Vermont could help define the course of energy policy for the next century, if our leadership will have the courage to step from the standard. It is not a question of whether fossil-fueled energy runs out -- it is a question of when. We should take Hemingway's question very seriously, and support the development of renewable energy at a statewide level now. To wait for the inevitable crisis of fuel shortage is folly.
Middletown Springs
Melissa Chesnut-Tangerman is co-executive director of SolarFest: Energy Education Through the Arts.

Which way will we go?

Sam Hemingway has shone a flashlight on some rather dark areas of Vermont bureaucracy. The public officials involved will not enjoy the publicity, but their words and actions are far too clear.
A majority of Vermont's electricity comes from an old nuclear plant and imported hydro power. It is convenient to blame acid rain and air pollution on Midwest coal plants, but a little harder to come up with electricity solutions which don't harm our environment, nor other states'.
The real issue is: Will we as Vermonters who value our scenic viewscapes and clean air make truly long-term decisions that will better our living environment? Or will we adopt the cowardice of nimby-ism?
Vermont is fortunate to have strong winds for wind energy, as the Searsburg wind farm proves. Vermont has always had thoughtful and resourceful people, from inventors to farmers to business people, who think of creative ways to use Vermont's resources in sustainable ways. The state government needs to let them do more.

Power is power

Gov. Howard Dean is right to encourage the discussion about Vermont's energy needs. His method was kind of wacky, though -- the cost of getting the coal to Vermont, the disposal of ash, and the mercury in the ash are reasons enough to dismiss his coal plant idea as preposterous, but that's what he did with the gas project in southwestern Vermont, too -- promoted an idea without really understanding the details.
The governor did get people's attention, even if it has made him the butt of a few jokes around here. Cabin fever is pretty intense and we all needed a good laugh.
What we do need to be talking about are our current energy issues, not just new supplies a dozen years away. Why are we selling Vermont Yankee now, when market power clearly lies in the hands of the owners of the generators?
Vermont's energy plan features renewables. A diversified energy supply utilizing wind, solar and hydro technologies can work. We need to pass legislation this year to encourage investment in renewables and empower Vermonters to take responsibility for our own power needs. I live with solar panels and they work. Generating your own power is power.
Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Drilling vs. mandating

According to the Bush White House, if we drill for oil in the Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge we will produce 42 million gallons a day.
According to the Sierra Club, if the Bush White House mandated that SUV's average fuel efficiency be increased by only three miles per gallon, we would save 49 million gallons a day.
So far, the Bush White House prefers to demand drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Dean replacing critics on environmental advisory panel
April 8, 2001,
Rutland Herald

Staff Writer

MONTPELIER - A leading environmentalist was asked to leave Gov. Howard Dean's council of environmental advisers after she criticized the governor's short-lived proposal for a coal-fired power plant in Vermont.

Elizabeth Courtney, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, was one of 20 members of the governor's environmental council, which meets about once every three months with the governor.

But after Courtney wrote a newspaper opinion piece faulting Dean for his brief advocacy of a coal plant, she learned she was no longer welcome on the council. David Rocchio, the governor's legal counsel, wrote her late last month to say she will be replaced on the council by VNRC's board chairman. The move came after she had written the governor on energy issues and showed his staff her draft newspaper piece, Courtney said.

"From the tone of your letter (to the governor), the content of your (newspaper) essay, and your rejection of the concerns we have raised with you in conversation, it appears that you do not seek a dialogue," Rocchio wrote to Courtney and to VNRC's board. "The governor sees little point in continuing to try to discuss these issues with you."

Meanwhile, another prominent environmentalist - Mark Sinclair, Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation - was also asked to step down from the council. Sinclair said it was not yet clear whether he was being removed to make way for another environmentalist, as he was told, or because he had criticized Dean's environmental policies.

"The council from my view is dysfunctional," he said.

Courtney said she realizes it's the governor's prerogative to choose his environmental advisers. But she said she was disappointed she will no longer be a member of the group.

"I think the governor and environmentalists … need to continue to talk to each other," she said. "I hope that by letting me go from his council of environmental advisers that that option is not precluded. I think it's in the interest of every Vermonter that the governor continue to have a good healthy dialogue with people who are working for clean air, clean water ... and from Vermonters who are interested in developing a strong energy policy."

Dean's suggestion that Vermont needed a coal-fired power plant outraged many environmental and clean-energy advocates, who noted that coal burning contributes to both acid rain and global warming. Dean quickly retreated from the proposal, saying he had floated the idea to prompt a discussion of Vermont's energy needs.

The shake-up on the governor's council comes as environmental advocates see their issues under fire in the State House. The Republican-controlled House has passed changes to the Act 250 development review law that critics say will weaken the landmark statute. The controversial Circumferential Highway in Chittenden County may move forward, thanks to a $2 million appropriation passed by the House. And on Friday, the House amended the state capital bill - a spending measure for long-term construction projects - to include several provisions that affect the environment, including one that would delay for two years new rules to control water pollution from stormwater run-off.

Dean sought to reassure environmentalists last week. He told reporters at a news conference that the Legislature likely will pass strong bills to protect the public against toxic mercury and to control septic systems.

"His message was: Don't despair, this is going to be a very good session on the environment," said Rocchio, the governor's legal counsel.

Rocchio said he would not comment on the letter he sent to Courtney. But he said Dean seeks advice from all sides on environment issues, not just from people with whom he agrees.

"He expects and wants to get a frank view. He's not looking for people to tell him what they think he wants to hear," he said.