2007 Year in Review: Global Warming

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(Host) Today, we begin a series of special reports looking back on the top stories of 2007, as the year comes to a close.

All through the year, awareness of global warming and the role played by carbon dioxide, kept growing among Vermonters.

And as VPR’s Steve Delaney reports in this part of our series, that awareness began strongly, early in the year.

(Delaney) Senate President Pro-tem Peter Shumlin set the tone as soon as the Legislature convened. He summoned award-winning author Bill McKibben to spell out what could happen if the polar ice-caps should melt.

(McKibben) "Were that to happen, the Earth would be far warmer than it’s been for a long time. Not warmer than it’s been in human history, not warmer than it’s been in human pre-history, warmer than it’s been since before the beginning of primate evolution.”

(Delaney) Bill McKibben told the lawmakers that they have less than ten years to come to grips with greenhouse gas pollution, or the planet will tip toward climate catastrophe. He called for action on renewable energy, and curbs on development that produces sprawl.

(McKibben) "The Circ Highway? Suburban sprawl? More big box stores on the far outskirts of town? These are global warming machines. That’s what they produce, more than anything else."

(Delaney) Those warnings of dire consequences sank into the Legislature’s consciousness, although the impact was more visible among the majority Democrats.

When the House passed its energy bill, the debate was over whether there should be tax stabilization agreements with wind power developers.

A far more serious glitch appeared in the Senate’s energy bill, when Governor Jim Douglas said he’d veto the bill because it singled out Entergy, the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The Senate wanted a tax on Entergy to fund a number of energy programs that would help low-income Vermonters, but the governor wasn’t having it.

(Douglas) "To have one particular company or industry subject to a tax, all of a sudden sends a bad message to those who would invest in our state."

(Delaney) But the Senate’s Peter Shumlin rejected that argument.

(Shumlin) "How does it possibly send a negative message to the business community that we found that Entergy hasn’t had any increase in their property taxes since 2003? No other Vermonter has their property taxes frozen back to the 2003 level before they invested $100 million in the property. Fair is fair."

(Delaney) That exchange escalated the energy issue into a partisan war over how to finance programs both sides agreed were needed.

In the end, the Senate kept its tax proposal in the bill, and as the veto date approached, the Democrats played their biggest ace. Al Gore, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize later in the year, urged lawmakers to override the veto.

(Gore) "It’s not a political issue, shouldn’t be a political issue. It’s a practical economic issue. Of course, the climate crisis is also a moral and ethical issue. But what a wonderful opportunity to have a chance to help lead the way in solving the climate crisis while saving money for ratepayers and putting more money in the pockets of Vermonters and creating jobs of the future in your state.”

(Delaney) In the end, 11 Democrats did not heed that call …

(Symington) "Please listen to the results of your vote: Those voting yes, 86, those voting no, 61…"

(Delaney) … and the House failed to muster the two-thirds needed to override. The next day the governor said he would implement the parts of the bill that he liked, by executive order, but critics suggested that there was more procedure than progress in that plan. By the end of the year Douglas was saying Vermont should set a green standard among states for carbon reduction.

There were some significant victories on the climate change front.

Early in August, regulators approved a big wind-power project in the Northeast Kingdom town of Sheffield, over the governor’s known opposition.

Andrew Perchlik runs Renewable Energy Vermont, and he said the regulatory ruling was a good omen.

(Perchlik) "I think the wind developers are going to feel good about the prospects of wind in Vermont. It does show Vermont is open for business to the wind industry, and we’re going to see other projects move forward because of this decision.”

(Delaney) And in a federal case that’s still not entirely settled, U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions ruled in Burlington against the auto industry.

In a September decision, Sessions said the states do, indeed, have the authority to regulate greenhouse emissions by cars and trucks, and, that the car industry would not be crushed by having to meet a 30 percent emission reduction over the next decade.

(Delaney) The federal Environmental Protection Agency has yet to approve a waiver that would permit stricter state pollution standards. And the auto industry has not abandoned its effort to avoid those tougher standards. It’s appealing the ruling.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Delaney.

Note: Our series continues tomorrow with a look at some of the top cultural stories of 2007.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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