Douglas’s climate change proposal panned by environmentalists

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(Host) Vermont absorbs so much carbon that Governor Douglas says we should sell "carbon credits."

He says Vermont could make money by selling the credits to industries that pollute.

But as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, some environmental advocates say it’s a vague response to climate change.

(Sneyd) This is how Douglas envisions making carbon trading work.

Vermont could open its state forests to maple sugar production and sustainable timber production.

That creates value in a woodlot that absorbs a lot of carbon dioxide. The state could capture that value and sell it as a carbon credit to a company that emits carbon dioxide.

(Douglas) "I see an emerging market where we’re either a leader or a follower. My choice, like the choice we made with the captive insurance industry, is to lead."

(Sneyd) But there are a lot of details to work out, so the governor warmly embraced a proposal by the commission he appointed two years ago.

He says state government should work with the University of Vermont and the state’s colleges to explore climate change ideas, and figure out how to make something like carbon credits work.

Along the way, he hopes to create some economic development opportunities. He wants to create a sort of "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for carbon reduction efforts.

(Douglas) "By establishing the Vermont Green Standard, we’ll be taking the lead on a multi-billion-dollar industry that is only just beginning to take form.”

(Sneyd) But environmental groups say that’s not leadership. James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest Group says the governor only wants to study the problem again.

(Moore) "He was given a terrific plan by a commission of his own making. Thirty-eight solution-oriented action items on a silver platter delivered to his office. Instead, he’s out in left field talking about further research and carbon credits and ignoring the solutions that are in front of us and we could reach today.”

(Sneyd) Douglas says he’s got a well thought-out plan that takes the problem seriously and begins to do something about it.

But his critics say he could have done much more.

(Courtney) "He generally missed the mark.”

That’s Elizabeth Courtney of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, one of the six people Douglas appointed to his commission.

She says the commission offered 38 specific recommendations. Things like tax incentives for driving less – and tax penalties for driving gas guzzlers. And enticements to discourage cutting those carbon-absorbing forests so heavily.

(Courtney) "We needed to see every one of the 38 policy options implemented in order to meet these goals. And in order to do that we need all hands on deck. And we need the governor aggressively pursuing every single one of the 38 options.”

(Sneyd) One of those options – expanding the state’s energy conservation utility to cover heating fuels – led to a political standoff earlier this year between the governor and the Legislature.

Douglas says his administration already is working with lawmakers to find a compromise. Legislative leaders say they’ll continue to push the state to take bolder steps on global warming.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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