Attorney: Vt. AG will not press charges against environmental activist

Posted: Feb 08, 2016 12:12 PM ESTUpdated: Feb 08, 2016 7:29 PM EST

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Annette Smith
MONTPELIER, Vt. –Vermont’s Attorney General Bill Sorrell will not press charges against one of Vermont’s most outspoken critics of industrial wind and solar projects.

But that critic says the fight isn’t over.

Known for her persistence, Annette Smith threatened a civil rights lawsuit against the attorney general’s office if they did not drop the investigation. She claims she’s a lawful advocate for Vermonters and simply exercising free speech.

Smith believes she’s a voice for the powerless, she helps Vermonters without lawyers protect their legal interests before the Public Service Board.

“We can work together to site renewable energy. We don’t have to fight over this. We don’t need lawyers to fight over how we build our energy future together,” said Smith.

Smith runs the nonprofit Vermonters for a Clean Environment and she works with homeowners who are unhappy with the siting process for solar or wind projects.

But allegations that she was practicing law without a license triggered an investigation by Vermont’s attorney general:

An energy developer sent a letter to the AG alleging Smith, “provided legal advice” and helped “draft pleadings” for those parties.

“The Public Service Board is in my professional opinion, an abusive process,’ said Smith.

Monday, Smith got word she can continue to help Vermonters without an attorney before the board. The attorney general’s investigation found no evidence she was practicing law without a license.

Last Friday Smith and her attorney threatened to sue -if the AG did not drop the investigation.

She found support from an unlikely ally.

A spokeswoman for the energy company, Green Mountain Power, involved in many renewable projects issued the following statement:

“As I’m sure you know, we have ardently disagreed with some of Annette Smith’s positions, but we have never witnessed her crossing any line beyond what active citizens would do.”

“We have a long way to go in terms of actually coming up with real solutions,” said Smith.

Smith says that solution is more local control in siting renewable energy developments.

Smith says she and her attorney, David Sleigh, will not sue the AG.  Instead, now they’ll seek legal clarification over whether assisting homeowners with writing legal documents constitutes practicing law without a license.

She says she’ll continue to lobby lawmakers to change the Public Service Board process.



About vermontersforacleanenvironment

VCE's mission is to raise the voices of Vermonters and hold corporations accountable for their impacts on our people, our land, our air and our water. We are united in the belief that Vermont's future lies in conserving its clean, rural, small-town environment. We have joined together to pursue the common goals of encouraging economic development with minimal environmental impacts and preserving Vermont's natural beauty. VCE is committed to providing facts and information so that people can make informed decisions. We encourage your participation.
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