Douglas should renew party’s tradition

By DENIS RYDJESKI, REP’s coordinator in Vermont

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: published in the Burlington Free Press on May 16, 2007.


Some of us are old enough to remember that the Republican Party has a long conservation tradition. With growing concerns about global warming, this would be an appropriate time for Republican elected officials – especially Governor James Douglas – to renew that tradition. Vermont House Bill H.520 provides an excellent opportunity to do just that.

Republican President Theodore Roosevelt started the Wildlife Refuge system; later at his urging, Congress established the US Forest Service. Roosevelt set aside more land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined, 194 million acres in all, including the Grand Canyon.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments (which later became the Clean Water Act), the Endangered Species Act, and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were initiatives adopted under the Republican administrations of Nixon and Ford.

George Bush Sr. signed into law the Clean Air Act with an emissions trading scheme that has led to reduced levels of atmospheric sulfur dioxide. Under the Senior Bush presidency, the U,S, signed and later ratified the U,N, Framework Convention on Climate Change – under which the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated — with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Many Republican governors, most recently California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, have taken impressive leadership positions on environmental issues. Senators and Representatives, including Vermont’s George Aiken and James Jeffords, have played key roles.

So what’s happened to this tradition of Republican conservation leadership now – when we most need it?

Republican Governor James Douglas has positioned himself as a champion of the environment. Vermont House Bill H.520 contains two environmental initiatives that need his strong support.

One part of H.520 was crafted to help Vermonters reduce their use of fossil fuels to heat homes and businesses. The bill would expand the mandate for Efficiency Vermont, the program that the governor has repeatedly praised. Under the existing program, a modest surcharge on electricity consumption funds efforts to promote the use of energy efficient appliances, lighting fixtures, and bulbs.

H.520 would provide Efficiency Vermont with a similar mandate for promoting heating system efficiencies. This expansion would allow Vermonters to save $3 for every $1 put into the program. The money that would be put into the program is essential to the success of this new mandate. Funding proposals include a tax on Vermont Yankee’s generating capacity, its windfall profits, a small surcharge on heating oil consumption, or a gross receipts tax on oil companies.

A second – and equally important – part of H.520 would promote increased development in Vermont of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and biomass. But the Governor has not stepped forward to promote the bill. Indeed, his criticism of its funding features has impeded the adoption of these robust measures to meaningfully address what President George W. Bush has termed our “addiction” to imported oil. If funded and enacted into law, H.520 promises to create new cutting edge business and employment opportunities.
Both of these initiatives represent significant steps forward in addressing the pressing issue of climate change. A rising crescendo of scientific reports points to the dire consequences that the world will face unless we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Those emissions consist principally of carbon dioxide produced by our burning of coal, petroleum, and gas. What more fundamental conservation value could there be than protecting future generations’ ability to sustainably enjoy our natural heritage?

Governor Douglas is in a unique position to provide momentum by publicly supporting H.520 and the funding they absolutely need in order to be effective. Such support would evidence the Governor’s commitment to the environment and provide an endowed Douglas legacy for the future health of Vermont maple sugaring, our spectacular fall foliage, fish and wildlife populations, and our winter sports industry for generations to come.

Finally, by aggressively promoting these initiatives Governor Douglas could remind us all that the Republican Party still has a great conservation tradition.