Welch will pay to offset own carbon dioxide production

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(Host) Vermont congressman Peter Welch wants to make sure his own work doesn’t contribute to global warming.

Welch announced today that he will pay to offset the carbon dioxide that his office and travel produces.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Welch says his offices in Washington and Vermont plus his plane travel are responsible for about 56 tons of carbon emissions a year. Carbon dioxide is the pollutant considered most responsible for climate change.

So Welch said his congressional office will become the first to try to offset that pollution by investing in renewable energy projects.

(Welch) “The whole point here of attacking the global warming issue aggressively is that it gives us an opportunity to create innovative, local economic opportunity for people in communities all across the country. So I believe this has an enormous impact.”

(Dillon) Welch is using his own money, $672 to support two local energy projects. The money will help fund a methane digester on a Westminster farm, and a biomass boiler at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

The idea is that Welch’s investment will in a sense neutralize the carbon dioxide that’s released by heating his offices or by flying home to Vermont almost every weekend.

But carbon offsets can be controversial because sometimes it’s hard to prove that the money that pays for the offset actually makes a difference.

In other words, would these clean energy projects have happened anyway, without the congressman’s investment?

Vermont Technical College is trying to find $150,000 for its biomass boiler. Welch’s contribution is around $300.

But VTC spokeswoman Lisa Helm says the congressman’s money is important for symbolic reasons.

(Helm) “We were working on this project even before Peter announced that he would like to partner and support us on this. And we just appreciate that he’s becoming engaged with us on this project. We are working now to gain financing. With that picture unclear it’s really hard to say how important any and all contributions are.”

(Dillon) Some environmentalists say that the best way to reduce greenhouse gases is to actually stop producing them, by driving or flying less.

Michael Dworkin heads the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. He says carbon offsets are a small but helpful way to fight global warming.

(Dworkin) “I think it’s a small step, maybe even a baby step in the right direction. But it’s definitely in the right direction. We as a society need to do it overall and together. But the folks that are willing to get out and be leaders should be encouraged to do it.”

(Dillon) Dworkin says it’s important to have a clear system to keep track of the carbon offsets, so the person selling the credits can’t sell them multiple times.

And under current law, congressional offices can’t use federal funds to offset carbon emissions. That’s why Welch is paying for the offsets on his own. Welch said he’ll introduce legislation that would authorize the federal payments.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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