BRATTLEBORO — The Select Board unanimously voted in favor of adopting the goals of Vermont’s new Global Warming Solutions Act as proposed by the town’s Energy Committee. But complete support didn’t appear to be a given during the approximately hour-and-a-half conversation.
“This whole discussion to me is a mountain out of a molehill,” Franz Reichsman of Brattleboro said during the board meeting held remotely Tuesday. “I just have this feeling there’s this other agenda going on and it’s not being stated openly, and I think it’s destructive.”
Board Chairman Tim Wessel disputed the characterization, saying that board members had differing opinions on tactics for achieving energy goals. He said he found it offensive when a letter writer called board members “climate deniers.”
Committee Chairman Oscar Heller said the goals involve achieving 26 percent reduction of 2005 emission levels by 2025, 40 percent reduction of 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent reduction of 1990 levels and carbon neutrality by 2050.
“And this is town wide, not just municipal government,” he said. “If those sound very arbitrary, we didn’t choose them. They are the ones established by the Global Warming Solutions Act that was just recently passed by the Vermont Legislature.”
The committee figured the town could get a head start on achieving those goals set out for the state, Heller said, calling them “a good benchmark of our own.”
Town Sustainability Coordinator Stephen Dotson suggested that by adopting the goals, securing grants could become easier for the town. Board member Brandie Starr agreed with him that it was a modest proposal and said the work needs to start somewhere.
A resolution adopted in 2002 called for the town to pursue carbon neutrality but with no timeline. In 2017, the Select Board passed a resolution in support of meeting goals within the international Paris Agreement on climate change.
Board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said she found it disturbing that the committee and Dotson didn’t know about the second one. Despite being unaware of the resolution, Dotson said their efforts have fallen under that line of thinking.
Brattleboro is much more closely compacted than other communities in Vermont and may require a different approach when looking at emissions, McLoughlin said. She wondered if Dotson might be relinquishing some flexibility with his role if the town adopted the goals.
“You need to view sustainability in Brattleboro as you see fit,” she said. “If you hitch yourself to this wagon, won’t you be hamstringing yourself to do the work that you want to do?”
Dotson said he believes he needs to respond to the community’s needs and he looks at the Energy Committee as “perhaps the central and most important” groups informing his work. He said the proposal supports all of his efforts to date.
“If the Energy Committee is in agreement that these are good goals then I am all for that and get to work,” board member Daniel Quipp said. “Without some well defined thing to aim for, how do we know where we are?”
McLoughlin would have preferred actionable items and projects aimed at getting people to change their habits.
“I don’t see this getting us anywhere definitive toward sustainability,” she said. “I think it’s just symbolic.”
Wessel called the goal “so amorphous that it doesn’t have any meaning to me” after pointing to projects achieved by the town he supported such as participation in a large solar project, energy efficiency improvements at municipal buildings, exploration of fuel alternatives and planning aimed at making sections of the community more densely populated.
Dotson said the state’s Climate Council will determine policies and implementation strategies. He anticipates all communities will need to measure their emissions.
Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Windham-2-2, defended the committee’s proposal.
“It’s just setting a standard that I think could be inspiring to people and it doesn’t really conflict with what projects you want to do,” she said. “There can be an environmental benefit, an economic benefit and particularly a benefit for low income people. So I just think it would be wonderful to have that headline, ‘Town of Brattleboro is going along with what the state is doing.’”
Burke said the new law allows for parties to sue the state if goals aren’t being achieved, but not for monetary damages.