The Leahy Letter -- December 2011

Vermonter Bill Stenger Testifies Before Leahy Panel
On The Benefits To Vermont Of EB-5 Investments


In December, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Senator Leahy, hosted Vermonter Bill Stenger.  Mr. Stenger is president and co-owner of Jay Peak Resort, and testified about how the important EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program has revitalized the Northeast Kingdom, turning Jay Peak into a top-notch four-season resort, and prompting economic development around the ski resort in Sugarbush.

Senator Leahy has led efforts in Congress to make the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center program permanent.  Vermont is home to one of more than 135 Regional Centers across the country, which facilitate foreign capital investments in local economies and create jobs.

The Regional Center program attracts foreign investors seeking legal permanent residency and a chance to invest in the American economy.  Investors must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to a project within an approved regional center and independently apply for an EB-5 visa.  If approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), foreign investors are granted a conditional two-year green card.  After two years, the investor must provide proof that they have created at least ten jobs as a result of the investment and have met additional investment requirements set by USCIS.  As a result of the program’s popularity, additional applications are pending with USCIS to establish new Regional Centers in several states. 

Since its inception in 1993, the EB-5 program has been highly successful but has lacked the security of permanence; extending the program for a few years at a time has hampered its growth and stymied investors seeking to bring their capital to the United States.  Senator Leahy has introduced legislation to make the program a permanent fixture in American immigration law.

Mr. Stenger testified that, “Since 2005, Jay Peak has developed several EB-5 projects at the resort creating over 2,000 jobs in our region and over the next two years will create that number of jobs again.”

Senator Leahy said, “In 2011 alone, the EB-5 program is on track to create an estimated 25,000 jobs, and provide direct investments in American communities of $1.25 billion. Bill Stenger’s work at Jay Peak, financed in part through the EB-5 Regional Center program, has revitalized a very rural part of Vermont, and turned a beloved and iconic Vermont ski resort into a world class, four-season resort. Projects like this are occurring all over America, and there is every reason to support these job creators as well as the immigrants who wish to invest in and contribute to America. ”

Please click here to watch Senator Leahy in action and Bill Stenger's testimony.

Senator Leahy Votes 'No' On Bill Tying Payroll Tax Cut
To Dirty KeystoneXL Project


On Saturday, December 17, the Senate voted to fast-track approval of the KeystoneXL tar sands oil pipeline as a rider on an extension of the payroll tax cut. Senator Leahy strongly supports the payroll tax curt extension but has long been a leading opponent of the Keystone proposal and voted against the legislation that links Americans’ tax rates hostage to the tar sands project.

The Canadian oil and gas company TransCanada has been seeking approval to build the 2000-mile KeystoneXL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. The pipeline would run from the Alberta tar sands, one of the dirtiest sources of fuel in the world, through the central United States, to the shores of Texas and would lock the United States into nearly another million barrels per day of this inefficient and risky resource.

In a statement on Saturday, Senator Leahy said, “People can disagree about building the Keystone pipeline. But there is more to this than the short term jobs it would create. Jamming it through Congress on this bill in the waning hours of the session has a lot more to do with politics than jobs.

“Tar sands are a particularly dirty source of petroleum, from extraction to refinement. From the beginning, I had misgivings about the State Department’s ability to conduct a thorough, credible assessment of a project of this complexity that they were approaching with an attitude of inevitability.”

His concerns about the project have grown over the course of the past year.  In October of 2010, he sent a letter to Secretary Clinton regarding the pipeline and has continued to encourage the State Department to proceed with caution in assessing this proposal.

In a reversal of signals sent earlier on the Senate bill, House leaders for now have blocked a House vote on the compromise.

To learn more about the KeystoneXL pipeline project and to read Senator Leahy’s correspondence with the State Department, please click here.

Vermont’s LIHEAP Funding Declines

Vermonters are resilient and resourceful, but little can substitute for a reliable heat source in the chill of winter in Vermont. As winter settles over the Green Mountain State, another round of budget cuts in Congress means that Vermont will receive $19.5 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding for Fiscal Year 2012, $7.5 million less than last year.

On December 16 the House of Representatives voted on the Fiscal Year 2012 omnibus appropriations bill, which included the LIHEAP budget. The funding level is significantly lower than the $26.5 million provided to Vermont during the last fiscal year but higher than the $11 million originally proposed by the administration earlier this year. Today, the congressional delegation announced the release of $3.6 million for Vermont. The latest release of federal funds still would leave Vermotn with a 25 percent cut from last winter.

Senator Leahy, in a joint statement with Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch, said, “As Vermont's winter settles in, another installment of home heating aid helps. This allocation will keep many seniors and families with small children from going cold this winter. But at a time when heating oil costs are rising and we're in the midst of a major recession, we must do more. We must at least restore funding at last year's level for this critically important program.”

The congressional delegation is co-sponsoring the LIHEAP Protection Act to provide level-funding for LIHEAP at $4.7 billion on a national level. Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders have called on Senate leadership to consider the measure as soon as Congress reconvenes in January.


Senator Leahy’s Observations On Win For National Guard

Senator Leahy is pictured speaking with members of the Vermont National Guard's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Norwich University in 2009. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Toby Talbot.

This month Congress passed the bipartisan Leahy-Graham National Guard Empowerment Act.  Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and I authored these reforms to change the way the Department of Defense operates, for decades and even generations to come, by giving the National Guard a real voice in national security decisions.

We Vermonters know how important our National Guard is.  Hurricane Irene showed anew how Vermonters come together in times of tragedy and also how we can always count on our Vermont Guard.  Last year the Vermont National Guard deployed more than 1500 soldiers to Afghanistan, and before that the Vermont Guard deployed to Iraq during one of that war’s bloodiest periods.  Our Vermont Air Guard flew more than 100 days of consecutive missions after the September 11th attacks to keep the skies safe from further attack.  National Guard and Reserve units at times supplied more than 50 percent of the forces the United States had on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan during these wars.

Now the Iraq War has formally ended.  The Afghanistan drawdown continues.  The Cold War is over.  As the Department of Defense reduces our heightened force levels, our country can maintain active duty forces at a size ready to deploy for a wide variety of smaller missions.  At the same time, we can strengthen our economic security by shifting large portions of our active forces into the Guard and Reserve to respond to natural disasters here at home and to bolster our active forces if necessary when our vital interests are threatened.  The Leahy-Graham National Guard Empowerment Act will lay the groundwork for those changes in the years to come.

Our Guard reforms, which were enacted as an amendment to this year’s defense bill, will give the Guard a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a real voice in Pentagon decision making.  Our bill clears away cobwebs that have trapped the Guard – a superb 21st Century military organization – in a 20th Century Pentagon bureaucracy.  Not only do the nearly half million men and women of the Guard need and deserve this voice, but our country desperately needs to hear from the National Guard as a fresh perspective on military matters.

Increasing the profile of the National Guard in the Pentagon will also have the added benefit of changing the way our country considers going to war in the future.  I opposed the War in Iraq from the start and oppose the expanded nation-building mission in Afghanistan.  While these wars will end up costing perhaps several trillion dollars, they have also extracted a greater and greater human cost that is paid by fewer and fewer Americans.  The National Guard answered the call in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those wars could not have been carried out without them.  Keeping that valuable expertise in the Guard will broaden the number of Americans who would actually deploy to fight in future conflicts.  The more Americans affected by these decisions, the more carefully will our leaders weigh the benefits and risks of going to war.   

The National Guard as a significant part of our military is what the Framers intended.  They conceived of a small Army bolstered by much larger part-time state militias that could augment the Army when the Congress declared war.  The vision of the Framers survived until the Cold War period, when the permanent threat of Soviet invasion demanded that our country keep our Army large and permanently ready to deploy on a moment’s notice.

Our National Guard is the component of our military that most represents towns and cities across America.  The men and women of the Guard do not live in self-contained active duty bases but in your neighborhood and mine.  When they hurt, we hurt; when they feel the stress of war, so do we.  Greater reliance on the Guard means politicians will think twice about the impact of war on the people they represent before jumping headfirst into new conflicts.  The Leahy-Graham National Guard Empowerment Act will help to make sure that happens.

Leahy Hails EPA's Long-Awaited Rule
On Power Plant Emissions Of Mercury And Other Toxins

Senator Leahy On Wednesday applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for unveiling new limits on emissions of mercury and other toxins by power plants and other large polluters.  Their toxic brew is carried aloft and deposited in Vermont and other downwind states. The following is his statement on this breakthrough:

I commend the Environmental Protection Agency for doing the right thing, under tremendous special interest pressure, in standing up for the public's interest.  The Utility Air Toxics Rule to control toxic air pollutants such as mercury is a health and environmental breakthrough for the American people, and especially for Vermonters.  Finally, after 20 years of dodging regulation, coal- and oil-fired electric power plants, the largest contributors of these toxics, will be held accountable for the pollution they emit, just as many other industries are.

These controls are particularly important to Vermont, which is why I have long fought to reduce mercury pollution and protect public health.  Though we have no major sources of mercury, we are on the receiving end of much of the rest of the country's pollution. So much, in fact, that the mercury data crucial to the development of this rule came from the atmospheric monitoring station at Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center, for which I secured funding.  Unfortunately, deep budget cuts will hamper EPA's data gathering from this location, making it difficult for the EPA to get the full swath of information needed to keep the public safe, and informed.

In Vermont, the devastating effect of all this mercury pollution is most evident in our waterways.  While we celebrate greatly improved fishing on Lake Champlain, we also know that large game fish from every water body in Vermont, including Champlain, are so heavily contaminated with out-of-state mercury that Vermonters are warned against eating them.  That needs to change, and these new actions will help. 

Pollution control technology is already widely available, affordable, and in use at many plants nationwide.  We cannot allow outdated technology to endanger lives and stifle the innovation, investment and productivity that new technologies offer.  It is time for those older power plants that have failed to install this life-saving technology to catch up with the 33 percent that already comply with all of EPA's emission limits, and with the 60 percent that already comply with EPA's mercury limit. 

Without these safeguards, the public would continue to shoulder the cost of dirty industries, with their health, their children's health, and sometimes with their lives.  These poisonous emissions lead to more than 17,000 premature deaths every year, and they compromise our children's brain development.  But with clear and effective Clean Air Act rules, we see tremendous benefits: cleaner air, healthier and more productive citizens, and the creation of thousands of good-paying clean jobs.  Skilled laborers are standing ready to fill the 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs that the Utility Air Toxics Rule will create.  This is about five times more jobs than the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline would employ.  And unlike the pipeline, these clean air improvements do not gamble with the public's health and our environment.

For the hundreds of thousands of Americans suffering from heart attacks, bronchitis, asthma attacks and even worse, the EPA must act now to implement the Utility Air Toxics Rule.  We have the opportunity to create thousands of jobs that will make this nation safer and cleaner.  I look forward to fewer poisonous power plant emissions drifting over us to settle in Vermont's backyards. 

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