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Grassroots plan for greener county

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — In a grassroots effort to help reduce global warming a citizens’ group has asked Middlebury selectmen to endorse a plan aimed at reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by the year 2012.

The Middlebury Area Global Warming Action Committee (MAGWAC) on Tuesday presented selectmen with a 43-page report on the extent to which Middlebury, its residents and commuters are generating greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide), and how those gases could be reduced.

MAGWAC members Steve Maier and Peg Martin urged selectmen to adopt four major recommendations within the Middlebury Area Climate Action Plan, including:

• That the town set an example in reducing greenhouse gases on a municipal level by using biodiesel and other alternative fuels for its vehicles and heating; by encouraging public transportation, walking and less driving; by considering “building efficiency standards” for new construction; and by developing a plan to reduce town government-related greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2012.

• That selectmen appoint a steering committee that would encourage involvement of citizens and businesses, provide a sounding board for ideas, and help set priorities and shape policies.

• That the community hire a part-time project coordinator to ensure the implementation of the Middlebury Area Climate Action Plan.

• That town officials and MAGWAC put together a “Middlebury 10 Percent Challenge” program, steeped in public education, to achieve the desired greenhouse gas reductions among local residents and businesses.

“It’s a huge issue for the world we are leaving our children,” said Maier, who is also a Democrat representing Middlebury in the Vermont House. “We give (this report) to you with great respect, and hope.”

It was in 2000 that a group of Middlebury citizens concerned about global warming trends formed MAGWAC. The coalition first worked to increase public awareness in the Middlebury community by hosting an Earth Day fair on the town green in 2002 and 2003. The fairs focused on the economic, health, and environmental problems associated with global climate change. 

In June 2003, MAGWAC asked the town of Middlebury to join the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) Climate Protection Campaign. After joining, MAGWAC started work on a Middlebury greenhouse gas emissions inventory, which revealed that in 2002 Middlebury emitted an estimated 109,075 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, 2.7 percent more than was emitted in 2001. The committee determined that those emissions would continue on an upward trend unless Middlebury took some preemptive actions. Those recommended actions formed the basis of the MAGWAC report presented to selectmen on Tuesday.

“It’s important that the town take the lead; it will make a difference,” said Martin, a former Middlebury selectwoman.

Selectmen will spend the coming weeks digesting MAGWAC’s recommendations. They will revisit the report again in September, to determine what action they will take.

Some selectmen voiced concern about the town’s ability to meet the 10-percent goal that MAGWAC has prescribed. Selectman Bill Perkins noted that Middlebury could welcome several hundred new residents by the year 2012. With that in mind, he said it could prove difficult to reduce gas emissions by 10 percent below 2002 levels.

“I think the goal, as stated, is unrealistic,” Perkins said. “I think you should go for a per-capita emissions goal, instead of a townwide goal.”

Selectman Don Keeler noted that a large percentage of the greenhouse gases in Middlebury are being generated by commuters traveling through the town. And he added the rapidly rising price of gas could, by itself, provide a powerful incentive for people to drive less and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Maier and Martin said that while the 10 percent goal appears high, they are confident the townspeople can reach it by making some simple, daily adjustments in their everyday lives. Along with driving less, they said people can buy more fuel-efficient cars; perform home energy audits; switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs; carpool; and adopt “no idling” policies while parked at schools and other locations where people typically wait for passengers.

MAGWAC members pledged to raise funds to cover the majority of expenses for a part-time “10 percent challenge” program coordinator.

“Without an ongoing implementation structure and staff support, it would be difficult to see some of these things through,” Maier said.

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