After a divisive start in Pownal last July, the Vermont Council on Rural Development has targeted Randolph for its next community to participate in the Climate Economy Model Communities program. Randolph, located in central Vermont’s mountainous Orange County, has a population of just over 4,800.
In 2017, VCRD’s Jon Copans led a series of public discussions to help develop climate-change economic action plans for Pownal and Middlebury. This year the effort will continue with Randolph.
“Randolph made a very compelling case for their readiness to take full advantage of this program,” Paul Costello, executive director of VCRD, said. “With support from local business owners, farmers, the college, the hospital, the Rotarians, the school district, the town and others, there is already a dynamic team coming together to move Randolph forward. VCRD is looking forward to working with all who want to participate to improve the economic health and well-being of all sectors of this great community.”
VCRD’s Climate Economy Model Communities Program is making its Randolph entry with the help of Gary Dir, who chairs the Randolph Energy Committee. He is also the coordinator of Randolph’s application to VCRD.
According to Dir, working on a climate economy model “will be a real team effort.”
“Randolph is a great place to live and has such a wealth of assets, both natural, institutional, and human,” he said. With this program I hope we can build on those assets and identify actionable projects that will make this place even more enticing for businesses, youth, families and seniors alike.”
But not everyone buys into the model communities program, or are onboard with VCRD’s approaches to addressing the oft-alleged crisis of climate change.
Last year in Pownal, local resident Melissa Collins, among others, expressed concerns that the Climate Economy Model Communities Program was not subject to public scrutiny. She told True North Reports in July that the program looked like it was avoiding Vermont’s open-meeting laws and hadn’t been brought up for a local vote.
“We aren’t allowed to vote on any of the initiatives coming out of the (Climate Economy) program that could change the very make-up of our town,” Collins told True North. “They are fast-tracking the program and going all over the state, city by city.”
After causing a row in Pownal, VCRD moved on to Middlebury, where residents proposed more biking and organic farming as a way to help address environmental concerns. Copans introduced the Climate Economy Model Communities Program there in September, with the assistance of local Selectboard member Laura Asermily.
“There is … a desire to have an over-arching vision or goal for the Greater Middlebury Climate Economy Initiative, and there was agreement that a vision statement should be developed as part of ongoing work,” Copans said following the first Middlebury meeting to discuss initiative ideas.
While Middlebury’s initiative may appeal to many Democrat and Progressive voters, not everyone is anxious to get on board.
In January, Middlebury residents attended an Ethan Allen Institute presentation about Vermont’s ESSEX carbon tax proposal at the local VFW. Fossil fuel tax ideas, such as the ESSEX plan, are discussed at VCRD Climate Economy Model Communities Program gatherings.
Middlebury resident Thomas Sinacore, a retired New York City police officer, is aware of both VCRD’s climate economy activities in his town and the proposed ESSEX carbon tax plan. Despite attending various public meetings, he is upset about any effort to dictate how local residents should live.
“I am fed up with all of these attempts at controlling our lives, both locally and statewide,” Sinacore told True North. “For example, I figured out that the ESSEX carbon tax plan, if it ever goes into law, will add more than $1,000 to my heating oil bill alone, and that excludes my propane gas and gasoline. … All this means more government control, more Middlebury busy bodies telling me how to live my life. This place is a perfect model of socialism; they tell you how to live, what car to drive, and then if you don’t follow the leader they ostracize you.”
Even climate-change proponents don’t always see eye-to-eye with plans such as VCRD’s initiative.
According to author and senior fellow Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute, based in Corvallis, Ore., pushing through “climate economy” agendas like VCRD’s may ultimately backfire.
“The rapid build-out of renewables constitutes an enormous infrastructure project that will itself consume significant amounts of fossil-fuel energy,” he writes at the Post Carbon Institute blog. ” … The faster we push the transition, the more fossil fuels we’ll use for that purpose, and this could lead to the extraction of more tar sands, fracked tight oil and shale gas, deepwater oil, and Arctic oil.”
But so far, only one elected town official in Randolph has said publically that she is supporting the initiative.
“This is great news! This process has and will continue to bring together many wonderful people from all corners of our great town,” Randolph Selectboard Chair Trini Brassard said. ” … Randolph can help lead the way toward a more sustainable and resilient future, providing a roadmap for other Vermont communities. We’re honored to be a part of that work.”
Despite concerns that the Climate Economy Model Communities Program stands to radically change communities, Copans doesn’t see it as a top-down, one-size-fits-all effort.
“Every community is different; VCRD and our partners are excited to see and support the initiatives that residents from Randolph set as priorities for action. Everyone is invited to help set direction and lead the work forward,” Copans said. He noted that the most recent model community program participant, Middlebury, is moving “full steam ahead.”
The kick-off date for Randoph’s first Climate Economy Community Initiative public meeting has yet to be announced.
Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.