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Climate Change Economy Council seeks public input

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2015-08-16

By Kevin O'Conner as seen on vtdigger.org: http://vtdigger.org/2015/08/16/climate-change-economy-council-seeks-publ...

A new Vermont Climate Change Economy Council — composed of two-dozen business, public policy and environmental leaders — is aiming to simultaneously grow the local “green” job market and curb global warming.

To do so, it’s about to tour the state to ask a question: Any ideas?

“We believe Vermont should be an innovation leader, but we don’t have all the answers,” says Paul Costello, executive director of the nonpartisan nonprofit Vermont Council on Rural Development that’s spearheading the effort. “We’re really reaching out and listening.”

The Climate Change Economy Council — whose members range from federal district Judge William Sessions to Green Mountain Power President Mary Powell, Vermont Natural Resources Council Director Brian Shupe and state Transportation Secretary Sue Minter — is set to hold a series of public forums, with the first scheduled in Rutland later this month.

“It’s not a discussion about climate change,” Costello says, “it’s about building the economy to address climate change and for Vermont to take leadership.”

Costello’s organization is experienced in stepping forward. For two decades, the federally authorized rural development council has engaged public, private and nonprofit partners in collaborations “to address critical community concerns,” according to its website, vtrural.org.

VCRD has led policy efforts in agricultural development, energy generation, the creative and digital economies, community organizing and, most recently, the Council on the Future of Vermont, a 2007 to 2009 study that inspired the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative that now grants $1 million annually to farm and forestry projects.

Such investment seeds individual businesses. But with the entire state facing economic and environmental challenges, Costello’s organization is working to expand its efforts with the climate change initiative.

“Many worry that addressing climate change can undermine jobs and diminish economic opportunity,” council organizers wrote in an internal document. “Confronting climate change through innovative economic development, however, can be a competitive strategy, one that will build national reputation, create jobs, and attract youth and entrepreneurism to the states that lead.”

The VCRD announced the initiative in the fall of 2014 and held an introductory summit — a 400-person “Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change” event — at Vermont Technical College in Randolph this past February.

At the summit, the newly appointed Climate Change Economy Council explained it would spend the rest of this year collecting and sharing recommendations though regional public forums before producing a “practical plan to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate economic development” in time for another statewide meeting next February.

Read the Climate Summit Report.

The group has scheduled three listening sessions, starting Aug. 26 at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, continuing  Oct. 6 at Brattleboro’s Latchis Theatre and concluding on Oct 29th at Burlington's City Hall. All will start at 7 p.m., with more information available at the Vermont Climate Change Economy Facebook page.

Each forum’s central question is: “Do you have ideas about how Vermont can grow jobs and nurture innovative business development in sectors ranging from clean energy, to recycling, transportation systems, and thermal efficiency?”

Costello is prepared for people to touch on everything from the existence of global warming to whether a small state can make a big difference.

“We know we’ll hear all sorts of things,” he says, “but we really want to hear from the general public about potential opportunities. Our job isn’t to duplicate current efforts. The essential thing we’re looking for is how to do we move our economy forward and lower Vermont’s carbon impact.”

Kevin O’Connor, a former staffer of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, is a Brattleboro-based writer. Email: kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com