Critics Charge Douglas Environmental Advisory Boards Not Green Enough
VERMONT — A few weeks ago, while traveling through China promoting Vermont businesses, Governor Jim Douglas praised Vermont’s “environmental ethic.” But according to two of his advisors, neither the governor’s newly formed Energy Efficiency Task Force nor his own Council of Environmental Advisors properly represents the state’s environmental community.
Recently, Douglas has been embroiled in a fierce debate over H.520, the legislature’s comprehensive energy and global warming bill. The measure, which he vetoed on June 6, is supported by Vermont’s leading environmental organizations. Vice President Al Gore, whose Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, addresses climate change, also supported the bill. H.520 proposes a wide range of environmental initiatives, among them an expansion of Vermont’s renowned energy-conservation utility Efficiency Vermont.
Days after vetoing the bill, Douglas, who has not seen Gore’s film, proposed an alternative energy-efficiency program geared toward enabling low-income Vermonters to weatherize their homes with the help of no-cost and low-interest loans. A June 12 press release from the governor’s office announced the formation of a “task force” that “will be an important part of insuring the innovative new program can get up and running — and get to work reducing our greenhouse gas emissions — as soon as possible.”
At least one member of the eight-person task force, CVOEO Executive Director Tim Searles, found out about his appointment to the group two business days prior to the public announcement. His fellow members include a former global investment bank executive, the president of Passumpsic Savings Bank, the senior vice president of Chittenden Bank and the executive vice president of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. The governor didn’t ask any representatives from environmental organizations to serve. Nor has he participated in any of the force’s three meetings, one of which was a 25-minute conference call.
Searles, who criticizes the governor’s energy-efficiency plan for being too narrowly focused, observes, “the environmental community is not in the room.”
“Why would they be?” Governor Douglas responds. “This is a financial program we’re putting together . . . it’s a housing efficiency program.”
Another task force of sorts — the governor’s 18-member Council of Environmental Advisors — was created under then-Governor Howard Dean and passed on to Douglas in 2003. The council has met nine times since then and did not meet in 2006, according to Lori Fischer, a member of the council. The governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, by contrast, regularly meets four times per year, according to Smith Barney Senior Vice President Harlan Sylvester, the council’s chairman. Sylvester adds that the governor has never missed an economic council meeting, which typically last two and a half hours.
The Council of Environmental Advisors is not listed on the governor’s website. Seven Days contacted Douglas press secretary Jason Gibbs midday Thursday requesting the names and respective affiliations of his environmental advisory council. Gibbs sent the names, but had not provided the affiliations as of press time Tuesday. Spokespeople from both the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Vermont Natural Resources Council — the state’s two major environmental advocacy groups — confirm that neither group currently has a representative on the council.
Fisher, the executive director of the Lake Champlain Committee, has been a council member since 2003. “Certainly, there are designated representatives from various environmental organizations,” she says, adding that she appreciates the “broad range of expertise” on the council. But she suggests, “I think it would be valuable to have representation from the lead environmental organizations, particularly the environmental advocacy organizations, like VNRC.”
When questioned about the apparent lack of environmental representation on his Council of Environmental Advisors, Douglas claims that he selected Robin Scheu to be on the council for her affiliation with VNRC.Scheu says she no longer serves on VNRC’s board of directors.