Thursday, February 10, 2011

Champlain Does Vermont Climate Action Day

Last Thursday a small group of environmentally enthusiastic members of the college and I road tripped down to Montpelier for Vermont Climate Action Day. We walked into the iconic State House and took our seats in the chamber. One after another state representatives and concerned citizens spoke about the immediate need for a sustainable energy policy in the state of Vermont. Topics ranged from improving the energy efficiency of homes across the state to the need for practical ways to get Vermont's youth involved in the fight against climate change. These speeches, although short, were very powerful. It is a relief to see that at least one state's legislature is not backing down from this challenge.

After listening to the speakers we went to feast in the cafeteria where we ate like kings on Champlain's dime. I was surprised to see the legislators mingling with their constituents during their lunch time. They were all very approachable and more often than not, they approached us. One legislator in particular, Kesha Ram, a representative from Burlington and also the youngest state representative in the Union talked with us at length about a variety of issues.

We then went to a meeting where the organizers of the event, a mix of legislators and leaders in Vermont's transition communities, were looking for ideas to combat climate change. Many of the people present, myself included, jotted down ideas on sticky notes and posted them on the board. Although we left early to attend a meeting of the general, housing and military committee there were numerous ideas, all good ones I assume, on the board.

During the committee meeting representatives were discussing the PACE program. PACE is property assessed clean energy, in other words the state gives homeowners a loan based on their home's equity with which they can make energy efficient improvements (such as re-insulating, solar panels, energy efficient windows, etc.) to their homes. While standing in a small, uncomfortably warm room I watched members from Efficiency Vermont, a state operated organization instituted to manage the money apportioned for the PACE program, explain what they do and what changes they need to make to improve the productivity of the program. From what I was able to grasp from the complex fiscal jargon they were using is that the state needs to appropriate more money for the program. Essentially, they need to expand and improve their monetary situation in order to grow the program. They also discussed how the state is protected from people who default on their loans and other financial issues that I, a vibrant 20 year old, don't want to worry about.

Upon leaving that political sauna we paused for a moment in front of the State House for a quick photo op before re-boarding the bus and heading back to campus. In a moment of reflection, Vermont Climate Action Day was an invaluable experience. Seeing legislators enact policy first hand was inspiring and unforgettable. I am glad to see that there are so many passionate Vermonters who are dedicated to keeping up the good fight against environmental degradation.