U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders says the Vermont Legislature should reject a proposed moratorium on ridgeline wind projects.
Sanders’ intervention into the debate is unusual for a member of the state’s congressional delegation, which usually avoids interfering with state legislative issues.
The debate over large-scale wind projects on Vermont’s ridgelines has reached the Legislature, where there’s some support in the Senate for a three year moratorium.
Sanders called a news conference Monday to say the moratorium would send the wrong message to people concerned about climate change.
"I know that the day after a moratorium is passed here in the state of Vermont, if that were to take place, that the fossil fuel industry, the coal industry, the oil industry would advertising all over America that even in the progressive state of Vermont – even in the so-called environmentally-conscious state of Vermont – they don’t want to go fast on sustainable energy," he said.
But proponents of the moratorium say Sanders has his facts wrong.
They say wind development will not reduce Vermont’s carbon footprint, since most of the greenhouse gases here are produced by vehicles and heating fuels. And they argue that wind turbines – because they generate electricity only when the wind blows – require back-up generation on the grid, often produced by fossil fuels.
Caledonia Senator Joe Benning is co-sponsor of the moratorium measure. He said he was surprised that Sanders is getting involved.
"There are a lot of people in this state who have voted for him through the years and see him as the savior of the little guy. And to suddenly see him abandoning the little guy in this conversation, in exchange for something that doesn’t do what he proclaims it does, it really makes me scratch my head," he said.
Sanders also plans to introduce legislation soon that will include a new tax on carbon emissions.
He was joined at his news conference by several leaders of Vermont environmental groups. Paul Burns of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group said those who fight Vermont wind projects are like those who deny evolution: They are arguing against science.
"What will we do in Vermont when faced with this choice? Will we reject science? Or will we do our part. Will we step up? Will we be part of the solution where we take responsibility for our energy future?" he said.
But a leading opponent of ridgeline wind development said those opposed to the projects do not deny climate change.
"Of course we’re not climate deniers," said Steve Wright of Craftsbury. "I taught climate change action education for five years with the National Wildlife Federation."
Wright is also a former state fish and wildlife commissioner. He said he supports a climate strategy that preserves intact ecosystems – such as mountain ridgelines – and targets vehicles, heating fuels and other source of greenhouse gas emissions.
"Putting turbines on ridgelines in Vermont will be, will be the guaranteed symbol of stupidity when it comes to climate change action," he said.
Wright said it’s a measure of the movement’s success that it has drawn opposition from Sanders.