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Brattleboro adopts new goals to reduce emissions

Pledges to meet benchmarks of state’s new Global Warming Solutions Act

BRATTLEBORO—The town has pledged that, within five years, it will have reduced carbon emissions within its borders by 26 percent of 2005 levels.

The Selectboard voted unanimously to adopt the carbon emission goals proposed by the Town Energy Committee.

The committee has proposed that carbon emissions be cut by 40 percent of the town’s 1990 levels by 2030 and further cut by 80 percent of the town’s 1990 levels by 2050.

The aim of reducing carbon emissions is to slow the effects of climate change.

According to the national organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists, heat-trapping gasses such as carbon dioxide contribute significantly to global climate change, trapping heat within the Earth’s atmosphere.

To slow the effects of global warming, communities need to reach “net zero” emissions — where the amount of these gasses entering the atmosphere is on balance with the amount taken out — by 2050.

Earlier this year, the Vermont Legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which both codified the state’s goals around reducing carbon emissions and established an accountability process.

According to Selectboard Chair Tim Wessel, the town also voted to follow the goals of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017.

In 2002, Brattleboro passed a resolution to reduce greenhouse gasses produced by the municipality and to align with goals outlined by Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, a project of the United Nations.

In an Oct. 1 memo to the Selectboard, Sustainability Coordinator Stephen Dotson wrote, “Since that 2002 resolution, although some municipal emissions have been reduced, new targets have not been set and a strategy has not yet been defined for meeting new targets.

“The science is much clearer now that the projections of temperature increase during the next few decades could lead to devastating consequences, and there is a desire in our community to make the necessary changes.”

Dotson also informed the board that the proposed goals “are likely to be inadequate to achieve the best-case climate scenario.”

Still, matching the state’s emission goals will benefit the town in other ways.

Aligning with the state could move the town into a stronger position when requesting state or federal funding, Dotson wrote. Other benefits include valuable PR and the chance to work with other towns to help the region and state.

The goals should also provide the launching point for a climate action plan and strategy unique to Brattleboro, said Dotson and members of the Energy Committee.

One challenge, Dotson noted, was that while the goals are based on using carbon emission levels from 1990 and 2005, the town does not have data for those years.

Also, while the goals should include all sectors within the town, the municipality can’t control the commercial, residential, and institutional sectors, he added.

“We can infer this [climate] data from a variety of accepted tools,” wrote Dotson. “There are many ways in which the town can influence these sectors.”

Wessel and Board Vice Chair Liz McLoughlin took issue with the proposal, saying the goals appeared more symbolic than actionable or measurable.

McLoughlin added that when Town Meeting members approved funds for the sustainability coordinator position, she thought that the position was supposed to lead to concrete actions, not more goals.

Board member Daniel Quipp said that without reliable data, the board has nothing on which to base its conversation.

Deep into the discussion, board member Brandie Starr said she had been ready to vote for the previous 20 minutes.

Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, told the board she supported the proposal and disagreed that the goals were only symbolic.

Town Meeting Member Franz Reichsman said he was “shocked” at the board’s discussion. In Reichsman’s opinion, the board was “undermining” the work of a citizen committee.

Wessel said the board did not intend to “bash” the committee. He wanted to see tactics for reducing emissions.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #589 (Wednesday, November 25, 2020). This story appeared on page A2.

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