It's not every day that a Congressperson holds an open meeting in your building. But that's what happened this morning when House Rep. Peter Welch met with environmental types at the Burlington headquarters of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.
The VEIC HQ is right above the Seven Days office, so I climbed a few stairs and brought a tape recorder.
Welch, a Democrat who sits on the House Energy and Commerce committee, had called the meeting because his committee chair, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), plans to introduce a "major climate change bill" by Memorial Day. Seated at the sun-lit conference table were:
· Lisa Aultman-Hall – Director, University of Vermont Transportation Center
· Richard Cowart – Director, Regulatory Assistance Project
· Robert Dostis – Director of Customer Relations & External Affairs, Green Mountain Power
· Blair Hamilton – Policy Director, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation
· Jon Isham – Luce Professor of International Environmental Economics, Middlebury College
· Ellen Kahler – Executive Director, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
· Bill McKibben – Author and Scholar-in-Residence, Middlebury College
During the first part of the meeting, guests offered background on environmental issues. Some, like Bill McKibben and fellow Middlebury College scholar Jon Isham, sketched the outlines of the global climate crisis. Others, like Robert Dostis, Ellen Kahler and Lisa Aultman-Hill, spoke about environmental challenges and opportunities specific to Vermont.
Aultman-Hill, for example, pointed out that a new climate bill should help rural states like Vermont work toward changing behavioral patterns around transportation: "Changing behavior and reducing [vehicle miles traveled] is going to be necessary, and the reality is, we don't know how to do that in rural America," she said. "Transit solutions that work in Boston are simply not going to be implemented in Vermont."
After taking notes for a while, Welch told his guests he was concerned about how tough climate legislation would affect working families, and also how a the shift to a "green" economy might cause "transition dislocation" in the workforce.
Isham said the federal government should give working families money through a "green economy dividend." Ellen Kahler of VSJF said farmers and business owners need help developing green solutions. Robert Dostis of GMP said the federal government should provide matching funds for Vermont's Clean Energy Development Fund. And Blair Hamilton of VEIC said energy effiency measures should be implemented on a "sliding scale" to ease the cost burden on low-income people.
"You should never invite me to these things, 'cause I'm such a downer," replied the author-activist, noting that the climate crisis requires "way more precipitous action" than any of his fellow guests were advocating. The challenge, McKibben said, is figuring out how to create "radical" policy solutions that are also politically sustainable.
Jon Isham's green-economy-dividend idea, he added, would be the most sensible first step to reducing emissions without getting climate-savvy policymakers like Welch "tossed out of Congress in the next election."