Environmental groups charge violation of state ethics code

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(Host) Environmental groups charge that members of the Douglas Administration violated a state ethics code when they worked closely with organizations opposed to more wilderness in Vermont.

The administration had dismissed the complaint as a political maneuver in the waning days of the campaign.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The wilderness issue has galvanized environmentalists. They’re upset that Governor Douglas opposed a bill that would have created 48,000 acres of additional wilderness in the Green Mountain National Forest.

Emails and internal documents from state government indicate that the administration was under pressure from groups opposed to wilderness, including Associated Industries of Vermont.

Anthony Iarropino is a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation. He says the internal documents show the administration had directed its own attorney to help the anti-wilderness groups.

(Iarropino) “The administration’s own ethics code demands impartiality in state decision making. And when a commissioner and secretary of a state agency provides taxpayer-funded legal research to an ATV and anti-wilderness group, and when they conduct a one-sided conversation with people on an issue where there are many sides, you really have to question whether those political appointees are following the code’s requirement to act impartially.”

(Dillon) Jason Gibbs, the governor’s spokesman, says it’s important to remember that the anti-wilderness groups did not get what they wanted from the governor’s office. The groups had wanted the governor to appeal the Forest Service plan that called for 27,000 wilderness acres and to oppose a wilderness bill in Congress. Instead, the governor has supported compromise legislation in Congress that would create 42,000 acres.

And Gibbs dismisses the environmentalists’ complaint about ethical problems in the Douglas Administration.

(Gibbs) “Governor Douglas expects and demands that all the members of his cabinet adhere to the ethics policy in state government and we believe everyone has. This letter from CLF and other organizations is an election year gimmick, I think perhaps to boost fundraising from their many out-of-state donors, and we’re not going to dignify that with a response.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas has a council of environmental advisors that is supposed to serve as a sounding board on issues like wilderness.

Ben Rose is executive director of the Green Mountain Club and a member of the council. He says the environmental advisors didn’t have much influence over the governor’s stance on wilderness.

(Rose) “The council was never asked to discuss wilderness policy. And it’s been very frustrating, and it’s actually made me angry that the council has not had any input on this very important environmental issue.”

(Dillon) Rose said the internal emails and other documents made him realize that groups opposed to wilderness had more sway over the administration than the governor’s environmental advisors.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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