Climate change on the ballot locally, statewide

Staff Reporter

Although lower in population, Charlotte and Hinesburg were a big part of a movement to get climate change resolutions passed in all Vermont towns on Town Meeting Day.

Both towns passed the resolutions, so together they represented more than 12 percent of the 16 towns that approved measures urging the state to cease the creation of any more power generation that comes from non-renewable energy sources.

Thirty-nine towns or municipalities passed such resolutions last year, so now 55 – or almost 22 percent of Vermont’s 251 towns or municipalities – have gone on record encouraging the state to wean itself from fossil fuels.

The movement was in large part spawned by 350Vermont, and although they have been instrumental in organizing, each local resolution has been edited by residents “however they thought it would fit their town the best,” said Jaiel Pulskamp, a field organizer with the organization.

“In every town that it made it onto the floor or onto the ballot, it passed,” said Lily Jacobson, field organizer with 350Vermont. In some towns, it was kept off the ballot or not allowed on the floor.

Chuck Reiss is a member of the Hinesburg Energy Committee and worked to get the resolution on the floor for Town Meeting Day.

“One reason we wanted the resolution to come off the floor is we wanted to put it in front of voters for discussion,” he said. “It shows how healthy it can be to have a discussion.”

Reiss said they wanted to make the resolution more encompassing and transportable, and Hinesburg’s resolution was consistent but with his town’s “twist.”
Discussion on the floor in Hinesburg led to a change to this wording in the resolution: “Prohibit new construction of fossil fuel infrastructure on town-owned lands.” The town chose to use the word ‘discourage’ instead of ‘prohibit,’ Reiss said. In the resolution drafted by 360Vermont, the word used was ‘request.’

Rep. Mike Yantachka made a presentation about the perils of climate change at the beginning of Charlotte’s Town Meeting Day, and the issue was introduced later as a motion from the floor by Catherine Bock and it passed easily.

By phone, Yantachka said he thought much of the motivation for passing the resolution came from opposition to the 41-mile Vermont Gas pipeline being built from Middlebury to Colchester that will run through Hinesburg.

He said that voters were opposed to the way that eminent domain has been used to take private property and questions about whether they were properly burying the line.

Pulskamp of 350Vermont said that the organization’s name comes from the goal of bringing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels (or greenhouse gases) down from its current level of 400 parts per million to 350, which the organization says is the safe level.

In 1990, when the Vermont’s greenhouse gas levels were at 8.59 metric tons a year, the state set “ambitious” goals that would have brought emissions down to 6 million by 2015, the last year for which they have figures, said Jared Duval of the Energy Action Network.

Instead of going down, he said, the amount went up by 16 percent to 9.9 million tons a year.

“I’m surprised that more towns didn’t sign on,” said Wolfger Schneider, who worked to get Charlotte’s resolution passed. “We’re hooked on liquid fuels. Going forward it makes no sense to put more infrastructure into liquid fuels. If Gov. Scott’s goal of increasing the state’s population by 70,000, you’ve got to have more infrastructure and that will mean more oil and gasoline.”

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