A dairy farmer from Whitingham and a municipal planner from Newfane are among the Vermonters being asked to formulate climate change and climate resilience policy for the state.
Abbie Corse, a sixth-generation dairy farmer at The Corse Farm Dairy, and Chris Campany, executive director of the Brattleboro-based Windham Regional Commission, are among the legislative appointees to the Vermont Climate Council, announced on Friday, Oct. 23. The body was established by the Global Warming Solutions Act to recommend policy to the Legislature.
“I am really, really excited and heartened,” Corse said of her appointment last week. “I am encouraged that they appointed a working farmer to represent farms and working forests. That to me demonstrates a willingness within the process to listen to people on the ground.”
As a municipal planner who has worked with communities recovering from flooding and storm damage, Campany is interested to see how work he’s already done such as land use planning, energy site planning overlaps with evolving climate change policies.
“The big challenge for towns, and anyone else, is how do you actually implement that?” he said.
An initial meeting is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 20, according to Susanne Young, who by law, as Secretary of Administration, is the chairperson of the climate council.
That gives the council 13 months to come up with a climate plan for the state.
“Part of what makes it a challenge is the timeframe the legislature provided for presenting a plan,” Young said Friday. “It’s not much time.”
So far, Young is pleased with the appointments forwarded by the Legislature. “It seems to be a varied and well-experienced group of people ... to the extent that I know some of the names,” Young said. “I’m cautiously optimistic we can hit the ground running.”
Corse, Campany and their fellow appointees will not want for things to do. Under Act 153, the council’s tasks are many, and each are significant to the law’s intended goals.
The council is asked to inventory existing emission-reduction initiatives and building resilience to climate change, as well as evaluate new proposals. The council must establish how the state will measure greenhouse gas emissions, their impact on the environment and the effectiveness of reduction strategies.
The council has until Dec. 1, 2021 to formulate a climate plan that “shall set forth the specific initiatives, programs, and strategies, including regulatory and legislative changes, necessary to achieve the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements ... and build resilience to prepare the State’s communities, infrastructure, and economy to adapt to the current and anticipated effects of climate change.”
Last and not least, the council must also form a number of subcommittees dealing with how climate change is affecting rural Vermonters, and assuring that the transition to a renewable energy future is handled “fairly and equitably.”
Campany was appointed by House Speaker Mitzi Johnson. He’s expecting to tap into his past experience with the Windham Regional Commission in responding to storm damage, and with that experience, he sees opportunity to help the state build climate resilience.
“It will be a lot of work, a lot of responsibility, but it’s something I think we need to do,” Campany said.
Corse, a sixth-generation farmer whose cows provide certified organic milk, was appointed by the state Senate. She felt strongly that the person representing farms and working forests needed to be active in one of those fields.
“I felt it was something I could try to do to represent the voices of those of us who are actively living rurally on working lands and carrying out this work on the front lines every day,” Corse said.
Climate change has already affected farms in Vermont “in so many ways,” Corse said.
“Weather patterns have changed immensely the past 10 years,” she said, adding it effects crops and grazing patterns when fields are experiencing drought one year and extreme rainfall in another. It affects prices for goods … it affects everything,” she said.
EXPERTISE VERSUS GEOGRAPHY; STATEWIDE VERSUS LOCAL
Under the law, 15 of the 23 members of the panel are appointed by the Legislature, with Johnson getting eight picks and the state Senate Committee on Committees, represented by Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, getting seven. The remaining eight members are ex-officio appointees from the administration.
Corse, for example, represents “one member to represent the farm and forest sector” to be chosen by the Senate. Campany’s slot is “one member to represent the municipal government.”
“The bill required appointing people with specific experience and qualifications, not geographies,” Johnson said. “The statute dictated getting people from different facets/sectors/professional backgrounds of Vermont around the table, and I tried to spread out the eight that I had. That’s the opposite from the Legislature itself — that is specifically about getting people from different communities around a table, and hoping they also have different experiences and backgrounds.”
So several counties across Vermont, including Bennington County, do not have a direct representative on the panel among the Legislature’s appointees. That includes Addison, Caledonia, Orleans and Rutland counties as well.
Johnson said a number of her appointees truly work on a statewide basis: Liz Miller of Green Mountain Power, the state’s former public service commissioner; Joey Miller of the Vermont Natural Resources Commission, and Lesley-Ann L. Dupigny-Giroux, the state climatologist and a University of Vermont professor.
Campany, as well as fellow appointee Catherine Dimitruk of Fairfax and the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, are experienced in the land use planning, transportation, housing and utility needs of rural communities and regional economic hubs outside Chittenden County, Johnson said.
Among Senate appointees, former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter is well-known for her efforts in helping the state transportation infrastructure rebuild from Tropical Storm Irene. Jared Duval, the executive director of the Energy Action Network, a renewable energy advocacy group, was previously economic development director for the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
The administration’s council members bring expertise as well, Young said. She noted that Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore, whose agency is responsible for much of the law’s groundwork, was instrumental in formulating the plan for cleaning up of Lake Champlain; that Public Service Commissioner June Tierney has years of experience working with power utilities; and that Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle and Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts are well-versed in how climate change affects outdoor tourism and agriculture.
A DEEP APPLICANT FIELD
Zuckerman, who was part of the appointment process in his role as president of the state Senate, said the Senate Committee on Committees “received over 60 applicants — a tremendous number of whom were highly qualified.” He said the committee tried to take geography into consideration as well as the fit for each slot on the council.
“Specifically at times there was another Washington County person versus someone from elsewhere — we went elsewhere to make sure it was as relatively spread around as we could,” he said.
Johnson said there were enough applicants just for the position seeking “expertise and professional experience in the design and implementation of programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” to fill another council.
“When I look at the dynamics of the people around the table, I saw this seat as one of the “where the rubber meets the road” seats,” Johnson said of her decision. “Other seats are about advocacy and theory, or about making sure that issues of people/sectors that could be harmed are addressed. [This seat] is about someone who can say ‘I’ve dealt with this hurdle before, and here’s how.’ “
Her choice for that crucial role? Rich Cowart of the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), a renewable energy lobby with its U.S. offices in Montpelier.
“RAP has ties to the Climate Council in other states in the region, giving our council a unique opportunity to create better regional policies and solutions,” Johnson said. “Given the lack of national action, the regional ties to begin to create consistency across state lines are critical in the long term.”
Those following this issue closely might remember RAP for its study of carbon mitigation strategies for the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office in 2019. That report is worth reading and evaluating, considering Cowart’s appointment to the council.
The report recommended evaluating strategies for “cost per ton of carbon dioxide avoided,” rather than focusing on carbon taxes to reduce fossil fuel usage. That’s important, given the political resistance to a carbon tax in some quarters as well as the state’s limited revenues.
The report said strategies already available to Vermont — increasing energy efficiency through weatherizing, updating building heating systems and replacing gasoline and diesel vehicles with electric vehicles — could make a big difference, and depending on up-front funding and policy decisions, could make financial sense.
“A wide range of readily available, low- or even negative-cost carbon-reducing investments can save Vermonters money and put the state on a path to meeting its climate goals,” the report says. “Moreover, the near-term costs of those programs are moderate and lower than the cost of trying to achieve meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions through carbon pricing alone.
There were at least two nominations from Bennington County, according to Johnson, Zuckerman and southern Vermont lawmakers including Reps. Kathleen James, D-Manchester, and Linda Joy Sullivan, D-Dorset. Those nominees included Edward Cameron of Manchester, a climate expert who served as policy engagement director for Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), during the talks that led to the Paris Climate Accords, in addition to other international climate policy consulting roles.
“We mobilized thousands of the world’s leading companies in support of what became the Paris Agreement, working with them to make their own climate commitments, arranging meetings for them with leading governments, and crafting some of the text that made it into the final agreement,” Cameron said of his experience in Paris.
Cameron said he had hoped for a seat on the Vermont council, but knew the nominee field was deep.
“I live here and my family lives here. And we’re very keen to see Vermont succeed as a home,” Cameron said. “But in addition to that, I did feel that I had a distinct set of skills to offer, notably, of course, the experience I have working on this issue globally, but also the experience I have working on this issue within the real economy and not just working for a nonprofit.”
He said it’s important for leaders to extend their focus beyond reducing emissions to creating “a 21st century economy that is low carbon resilient and inclusive, that offers the infrastructure that Vermont needs, that offers the high paying jobs that Vermont needs, that can attract investors … all these things that Vermont would need to do irrespective of a climate crisis.”
“We don’t just need another energy policy, we need to think through what is the full spectrum of different types of public policy interventions we pursue, that could help us see this moment of opportunity,” he added.
CALL FOR INVOLVEMENT
Bennington county lawmakers were disappointed by the lack of a member on the board, but said there will be more opportunities to contribute.
“From the beginning, the Council’s composition has been based on achieving a broad mix of expertise and professional experience, and that’s absolutely vital to its success,” James said. “We may not have a member from Bennington County, but in looking over the appointees, I’m encouraged. Rural communities, municipal governments, small business, the fuel sector, climate scientists, environmental advocates, manufacturers, farm and forest — all of these sectors and more have a voice at the table, and we’ll be represented in those ways.”
Sullivan was less enthused.
“They have actually created a renewable energy council, which I believe completely misses the point in Vermont,” Sullivan said. “Furthermore, they have appointed politically connected people, including lobbyists, rather than people with imagination or renowned experience in training leaders and bringing forth national level solutions. Typical Montpelier usual suspects. Again, the Northshire and southern Vermont, that claims renowned national experts in the field, is not represented.”
“While it is always disappointing when our county is not represented on a council like this, we will all be able to participate in other ways and should do so,” Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, added. “In the meantime, we should continue to take the actions for conservation and efficiency that will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our daily lives.”
Vermonters need to get involved if the effort to reduce emissions, build resilience and grow the renewable energy economy is going to pay dividends, Sibilia said. That was a major reason that the Legislature added stakeholders including manufacturers, utilities and fossil fuel distributors to the climate council.
“I think it’s critically important. At the end of the day all Vermonters and all of Vermont are going to be impacted by climate change,” Sibilia said. “Some industries obviously will be looking to reduce emissions, and there two major ways to do that — transportation and heating. That will impact the fuel industry, so they need to be at the table. They have critical knowledge. And when you think about manufacturing in Vermont that’s a lot of employers.”
“I think there is a geographic diversity” on the board, Sibilia said. “I think we have folks from across a good amount of the state. Do I think it’s important for Bennington County to be included? 100 percent yes. Do I think they have to be on the council to be included? 100 percent no.”
And there will be many opportunities for residents throughout the state to get involved, she added.
“Don’t forget, there are a number of subcommittees to help refine various aspects of the law,” Sibilia said.
Cameron agreed that it’s going to take a broad-based effort to make the law work.
“If we’re to avoid dangerous climate change, we need to get to what’s called net zero emissions by 2050,” Cameron said. “And that’s a huge ask, that’s not going to be easy. And it means that we don’t have any more time for delay, we really, really have to act now. And so I would really encourage everybody on the council, I would encourage everybody throughout state governments. And I would encourage everybody living in the state to get very serious on this issue very quickly, not only because you don’t have time to waste, but also because other parts of the world are seizing the opportunities of a low carbon economy.”