Gubernatorial candidates debate environmental issues

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(Host) Vermont’s environment was the topic Monday night during a gubernatorial debate in Montpelier. Governor Jim Douglas said his administration has boosted spending to clean up Lake Champlain and will take legal action against polluters.

(Douglas) “We’re beginning enforcement action against hundreds of permittees and that shows the important and serious commitment we’re making to the water quality of our state. Secondly, this past year at my request and recommendation, the Legislature approved the largest increase for the Agency of Natural Resources in the agency’s history. That indicates the tremendous commitment we’ve made as an administration and Legislature to getting the job done.”

(Host) But Democratic challenger Peter Clavelle said Douglas’s rhetoric did not match his record. The Burlington mayor said much of the money that Douglas is using for Lake Champlain clean up efforts was obtained by Vermont’s congressional delegation. He said the state’s commitment is relatively small.

(Clavelle) “If one looks closely at your budget, there’s about $1.8 – $1.9 million of new money in the budget for the clean up of Lake Champlain. And this is against a challenge that you have identified would require $150 million. It’s a pimple. It’s not going to do the job.”

(Host) The debate was sponsored by several environmental groups and it was the first in the campaign that allowed the candidates to ask each other questions.

Clavelle used the opportunity to criticize Douglas’s work for the President Bush’s re-election campaign. The Democrat said Bush’s policies were bad for Vermont’s environment.

(Clavelle) “You can’t put Vermonters first and stand up for Vermonters when you are following, if you are the cheerleader in chief of George W. Bush. So my question to you is: Jim, do you agree to resign today as chairman of the Bush Cheney election committee?”

(Host) Douglas said his role in the president’s campaign was similar to that of other GOP governors. He said he was a Republican and committed environmentalist in the mold of former Vermont governors George Aiken, Robert Stafford and Richard Snelling.

(Douglas) “I’m running for governor, not for some national office. I’m comfortable with who I am, what I’m doing and the leadership that I’m providing to our state.”

(Host) The two candidates also differed sharply over state energy policy, including wind power development on state lands. The Douglas administration has a moratorium on commercial wind turbines on state ridgelines. Clavelle said he’s open to the idea of using public land for wind generation.

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