Vermont business leaders find common ground on energy, health care, telecommunications
Leaders of four diverse business organizations in Vermont have found general agreement over some of the most important economic issues facing the state, including on nuclear power and health care access. The Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Business Roundtable and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility communicated their shared policy goals around energy, health care, and telecommunications infrastructure in a joint statement released Wednesday.It comes as no surprise that all four organizations support broadband and mobile telecommunications coverage across the entire state. But they were also able to agree that nuclear power could be a source of electricity in what they see as a diversified energy solution, which would also include renewables. And they agreed that the health care system should be reformed to the extent that a solution would include universal access. VBR President Lisa Ventriss told Vermont Business Magazine that the nuclear piece was not an endorsement of Vermont Yankee. What VBR is saying, she said, is that, “Nuclear power is a clean, affordable, sustainable source of electricity.”LCRCC supports the relicensing of Vermont Yankee and VBSR, for one, does not. In effect, the groups are at the very least not rejecting nuclear power, Ventriss. Nuclear power, for instance, could be part of the mix of sources in a system contract a Vermont utility might sign with an out-of -state entity.Andrea Cohen, president of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility said, “VBSR does not support the relicensing of Vermont Yankee.” But, she added, her organization is “not expressly opposed to nuclear.”The same broad sort of common interest among the four groups was found with health care. All four want to find a way to reduce costs while making it available to everyone. Here, Cohen said that VBSR specifically supports universal access, ability to pay and a decoupling from employment. Neither she nor the group at large made a statement specifically about the single-payer plan making its way through the Legislature.Speaking first for the group in the prepared statement, Roundtable Chair, Steve Voigt, CEO of King Arthur Flour, said ‘Our four organizations have found common agreement on some of the most pressing issues facing Vermont today. Our aim is to work collaboratively toward faster, smarter and better policy outcomes in the legislative arena to benefit our companies and employees.’On the energy front, all four business organizations endorsed a diversified electric energy supply portfolio to meet increased demands for electricity that includes biomass, hydro, solar, wind sources, and nuclear. Referring to recent conversations with ISO-New England regarding transmission reliability, Jeff Beer, Co-Founder of Select Design and Chair the of Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, said, ‘it is incumbent upon business to speak with a collective voice of the critical need for transmission reliability; especially as we move towards a diversified energy future.’Health care reform is of great interest and critical importance to the business organizations. Recent surveys by the business organizations cited concerns primarily aimed at improving cost containment and reducing the current downward drag on business competitiveness. Julie Lineberger, Owner of LineSync Architecture and Chair of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said, ‘The cost of healthcare is the greatest obstacle to the success of many Vermont businesses; we must find a way to provide affordable health care to all Vermonters with financing that is equitable and sustainable.’ On the economic development front, telecommunications infrastructure is recognized as the threshold issue for expanding existing companies and enabling new businesses to locate in Vermont. Steve Terry, Co-Founder of Worth Mountain Consulting, and Chair of Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, said ‘Vermont urgently needs a universal, high-speed, affordable broadband and mobile connectivity system so we can compete with the world.’ The various organizations will be working throughout the summer on these issues to continue building consensus and broader stakeholder agreement around more granular policy recommendations.