NEWPORT, VT - Ed Stanak (Progressive) has spent the last 40 years of his life as a grassroots organizer and advocate working for labor, with environmental groups and against nuclear power. Now he is taking on Bill Sorrell and Jack McMullen in a race for Vermont Attorney General.
Stank's chances may seem like a long shot, but he's used to long shots, he says. He's made a career out of fighting for the underdog.
Stanak believes the Vermont Attorney General's Office (AG's office) should be more pro-active than re-active in legal cases.
For example: One of the jobs of the attorney general is to monitor the performance of other departments and agencies to make sure they are doing the job the legislature intended for them to do, no more and no less. Stanak said he is unhappy by the lack of supervision that the attorney general's office has exercised over the Public Service Department.
"The PSB (Public Service Board) is a failed regulatory process," Stanak said.
Initially, the PSB was empowered by the legislature to determine the best rates and the most efficient production of power, however the law changed. The legislature latter gave the PSB powers that were once limited to the Agency of Natural Resources, specifically, to determine the environmental impact of energy development. Stanak believes the PSB has dropped the ball in this area. "If the attorney general has a role, it's to intervene to see the PSB is doing its job," said Stanak.
Being proactive means the AG's office would set up a commission to determine site criteria for energy development, a set of guidelines and standards that would meet the environmental parameters of the project. The PSB would then have a benchmark against which to measure efficiency of electrical production as well as environmental impact. The state also needs a master energy plan that would include a diverse offering of energy sources.
"There may be a place for wind in Vermont's energy portfolio," said Stanak, "but the process is broken."
Stanak believes the existing oil pipeline through the Northeast Kingdom cannot be used for tar sands oil without a change of use permit and that a proactive attorney general would approach the company that owns the pipeline and raise this issue. Tar sands pipes must be pressurized and heated, he said, and these aren't. Changing the type of oil flowing through the pipes, as well as the direction of the flow, requires a changing in the structure of the pipes themselves, which means a permit, over which the state has jurisdiction. Proactively, the attorney general should approach the company and discuss what permits may be needed and/or remind them of the laws.
With regards to the Entergy appeal of the Yankee Nuclear Power Plant permit, Stank says the AG's office is headed in the wrong direction. The appeal is a losing one and the state is wasting money pursuing it, he said. However, he believes Yankee could be done down under state law because the plant requires a discharge permit from the state to expel warm water into state waters; this permit is solely under the jurisdiction of the State of Vermont.
Even though Vermont Yankee has such a permit, and has always gotten one for the last 25 years, there is no "presumption" of renewing the permit, Stanak said. The discharge violates Vermont's "anti-degradation" policy and there is no federal pre-emption.
The Vermont Attorney General is also the legal counsel for the state's fiduciary departments and agencies. When the 2008 financial crisis hit, a number of financial institutions had either violated the law or committed breaches of trust, but current Attorney General Bill Sorrell did not go after them in court, Stanak said. "He should have," Stanak noted. The big banks are registered to do business in Vermont and the fallout from their actions cost the state tens of millions off dollars from the state's three largest retirement funds: teachers, state employees, and municipal employees.
Once Stanak raised this issue in a debate with Sorrell and McMullen, Sorrell reportedly approached another state about seeking some kind of joint prosecution of the offenders.
"This is how a third party candidate can shift the debate. Until I said something, it was not on his scope," Stanak said.
Stanak calls the war on drugs a failure and a waste of money. When the policies of the past fail, he said, it's time for a comprehensive discussion.
Stanak said he is not one to advocate the use of drugs, including marijuana, but agrees with members of LEAP that legalizing, controlling, regulating and taxing marijuana and hemp would be the better answer. "We still gotta deal with the federal government," he said. "This is where the issue of states rights comes up."
Stanak clearly thinks outside the box. His focus is not on whom he could sue or what damages he could collect from a defendant, but on how to negotiate to avoid a problem in the first place.
"I feel we are at a tipping point," he said. The laws are changing fast, but maybe not fast enough to keep up with changes in technology and society. The Attorney General's Office can no longer afford to react to what is happening; the attorney general must step in and use his or her influence to change the tide.