Douglas clean air plan wins broad support

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(Host) The Douglas administration won support from a statewide environmental group on Tuesday for a new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Governor Douglas also repeated his opposition to the Bush administration’s proposal to relax rules for coal-fired power plants.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The governor and his environmental officials say Vermont’s air now just barely meets federal standards. And they’re concerned that pollution that flows in from the Midwest could push the state out of compliance.

The governor’s clean air plan includes working with other New England states and Canada to fight a Bush administration plan to relax rules for coal-fired power plants. Governor Douglas also wants to boost energy conservation for state buildings. And he’s named a task force to oversee the various efforts.

Curt McCormack from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group is on the new task force. He says the working group, which includes representatives from industry along with environmentalists, is the right approach.

(McCormack) “I think we are taking the proper step at the right time today. We need to have industry buy in, we need to have environmental buy in, we need to have governmental buy in. We can’t just go to the statehouse and introduce more bills like we do every year and watch the important ones fail. So we are trying to build the support and I think the way that we do that at this time is to have as much input as we’re able to with this working group.”

(Dillon) But the Douglas plan does not address the largest source of greenhouse gases in Vermont. Cars and trucks account for well over half the air pollution in the state. Yet Governor Douglas would not say on Tuesday if he supports an increase in federal fuel efficiency standards that would reduce pollution from automobiles.

But the governor did back a new, 16-mile highway project that he says will improve air quality in Chittenden County.

(Douglas) “We can build the Circumferential Highway, which is designed to reduce the idling time and emissions from automobiles and other vehicles in Chittenden County.”

(Dillon) On that point, McCormack broke ranks with the governor. His group is opposed to the Circ Highway on environmental grounds.

Douglas says his climate change action plan includes the same targets as an executive order signed a year ago by then Governor Howard Dean. The plan calls from a 25% reduction in Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. Douglas says the main difference between his plan and Dean’s is a requirement that the task force seek advice from the private sector as it makes its recommendations.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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