Commission to ask for state climate change department

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(Host) For a year and a half, the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change has been taking its own assessment of global warming.

The recommendations aren’t in yet, but it appears that the group will ask for a Department of Climate Change in state government.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, it’s been a difficult task.

(Highway sounds)

(Sneyd) Vermont sees lots of trucks that move freight, retail goods and raw materials around and through the state.

Plus, because the state’s so rural, there are a lot of single occupancy cars on the way to work.

Thousands of drivers pass through this busy intersection in Chittenden County on a typical day. And they’re part of the problem.

All of those cars, trucks and motorcycles spew greenhouse gases. Should there be penalties or incentives for driving less or driving more efficiently?

How about more buses? Or maybe more downtown development?

In a windowless, stuffy classroom on the University of Vermont campus, the six members of the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change are asking those questions.

Gina Compoli of the Transportation Agency is helping to advise the commissioners. She says so much of transportation is inter-related, that none of the problems can be tackled in isolation.

(Compoli) "The options in Vermont are limited given the fact that it’s a rural state. In order to have viable alternative modes, you need to have these compact centers in order for it to work. Because you can’t have a bus driving all over the place."

(Sneyd) And that’s just transportation.

The commission also is tackling agriculture and forestry, trash disposal, generation of electricity, how we heat our homes and businesses.

It’s asking how to reduce the greenhouse gases produced by those activities – or how the climate can be improved if those things are done differently.

Added to the challenge are the politics.

Governor Jim Douglas and the Democratic majorities in the Legislature already have battled to a stalemate over a climate change initiative, which involved expanding an energy efficiency utility.

Burlington businessman Ernie Pomerleau is chairman of the commission.

He says his panel is trying to stick to its mandate of developing a comprehensive set of proposals to slow global warming.

(Pomerleau) "All we want to do is take something that’s already in motion, make it go a little faster. And this is hard. But we’re trying to stay above the politics."

(Sneyd) Although controversial, expanding the efficiency utility is one of the recommendations the commission is considering.

There are 40 others still pending, pared from an initial list of 300.

Could expanding recycling and composting reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Would buying more Vermont farm products improve the land and reduce truck traffic? Should the state encourage production of bio-fuels?

Nearly all of the policy goals could be achieved either by using incentives such as tax credits or grants. Or they could be discouraged through fees or penalties.

Pomerleau says there have been no easy answers.

(Pomerleau) "Let’s say it’s been challenging. If you think about climate change when we took this over 18 months ago, it was something that was being dialogued, but I don’t think any one of us thought it would be the preeminent dialogue in the Legislature."

(Sneyd) Pomerleau is willing to predict one of the proposals that will be in the final report is a recommendation. It’s that the state establish a Department of Climate Change in the Natural Resources Agency.

The rest of the recommendations are taking a little longer to settle on.

The commission’s original deadline was September. But as this week’s discussion about transportation issues demonstrated, a lot of issues remain to be resolved.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

(Host) The commission tentatively is planning three more meetings and it hopes to present its report by October first.

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