Two Environmental Groups Join Forces

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(Host) Two leading Vermont environmental groups have joined forces to focus on sprawl and development issues in the state.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Vermont Natural Resources Council, established in 1963, is the oldest environmental advocacy group in the state. Smart Growth Vermont, founded in 1997, is one of the newest.

The two have now merged. VNRC executive director Elizabeth Courtney says the mission of the organizations is very similar. She says that in some ways the environmental challenges facing Vermont haven’t changed since VNRC was formed almost 50 years ago.

(Courtney) "We’re looking at, on the one hand, a similar concern: to maintain the compact center, the healthy downtown and to protect the working landscape. And on the other hand, we have the reality of climate change and energy security."

(Dillon) Courtney is stepping down as executive director this summer and will head up a new fundraising campaign. She’ll be replaced by Brian Shupe, who is now VNRC’s deputy director.

Shupe says as VNRC works on climate changes issues, it will also focus more on transportation as a way to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

(Shupe) "You can’t look at transportation in Vermont without looking at land use and settlement patterns. And the two are closely related. So Smart Growth is a settlement pattern that promotes pedestrians, it promotes transit. It is part of the solution to our transportation which is part of the solution to our climate change problem in Vermont."

(Dillon) The merger will mean the end of Smart Growth Vermont as an independent organization. The group was founded by John Ewing, a former banker who also served on the state environmental board.

(Ewing) "We formed this organization to focus simply on the issue of growth and how that could be directed in a way that would further the interests of the state rather than erode the interests of the state."

(Dillon) Ewing says his organization began revaluating its future after its executive director was hired by the Shumlin Administration in January. He says the merger makes sense at a time when many non profits – including Smart Growth Vermont – are struggling financially.

Ewing says Smart Growth Vermont has worked to bring people together around sprawl and development issues.

(Ewing) "So our methodology was to find that common ground. What delights me about this merger with VNRC is that I know from experience is that that’s exactly the way Brian Shupe operates."

(Dillon) Leaders of both organizations say they expect VNRC to emphasize collaboration over confrontation. Shupe says that means fewer lawsuits as the group tries to make changes in environmental policy.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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