Environmental groups weigh Douglas’ clean air plans

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(Host) Environmental groups are split over whether to support Governor Jim Douglas’s proposal to reduce air pollution. Last week, a leading environmentalist praised the governor for offering a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont. But critics say the governor’s plan doesn’t go far enough.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) It’s rare that members of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group publicly praise Republican Governor Jim Douglas. But that’s what happened last week when the governor rolled out a three point plan to improve air quality in the region.

That endorsement didn’t sit well with other members of the environmental community. Mark Sinclair directs the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation.

(Sinclair) “I am concerned that there is a bit of a greenwash going on here, that the governor is being given too much praise for what I consider to be a very modest recognition that we’ve got some air quality to deal with.”

(Dillon) The Douglas plan includes more energy efficiency for state buildings, and targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. But Sinclair points out the administration calls for cuts in the state energy efficiency budget. He says there’s much more that can be done.

(Sinclair) “It’s the role of our watchdog to ensure that we don’t allow our political leaders to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, by allowing fairly modest environmental efforts to be given kudos. I think we need to challenge the governor to do much more than his so-called three part clean air plan.”

(Dillon) But Curt McCormack of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says it’s important to acknowledge when politicians do the right thing. He says VPIRG does not agree with all of Douglas’s environmental initiatives, but feels he deserves praise for his climate change plan.

(McCormack) “We stood next to the governor because he took a step in that direction and he’s going to need to take more steps.”

(Dillon) Despite the VPIRG support, Governor Douglas hasn’t endorsed the group’s proposal for more renewable energy development in Vermont.

(McCormack) “It’s always a tough one to commend a public official for doing something that you’ve asked them to do, when there’s other things that you asked them to do that they’re not doing. So it’s a balance. And I think on balance, the governor did a good thing this week.”

(Dillon) Both the Conservation Law Foundation and VPIRG disagree with Douglas over the Circumferential Highway in Chittenden County. The governor says the highway will clean the air because it may cut traffic congestion at crowded intersections. The environmentalists say the highway will bring more cars on the road, which will cause more air pollution.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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