Selectboard rejects proposal to declare climate emergency, approves renewable-energy funding

BRATTLEBORO — The Selectboard voted 3–2 against a proposal for a Declaration of Climate Emergency after the third hearing on the proposal by a local grassroots organization, Brattleboro Common Sense, and an international coalition, The Climate Mobilization, to declare a climate emergency in town.

In contrast, later that evening, the Selectboard authorized using $16,333.12 to fund local renewable-energy projects in response to a resolution from the 2018 Annual Representative Town Meeting, a resolution also put forward by Brattleboro Common Sense.

Mark Tully, who represented the group, said the resolution asks for a declared state of emergency in the same vein that a state or federal government would declare an emergency after an disaster - one that could officially launch emergency protocols and unlock funding.

As envisioned by Brattleboro Common Sense, the declaration would also establish regular meetings devoted to the issue of climate change. Ideas, or “climate remedies,” generated in these public meeting would go before the Selectboard, which would then issue emergency ordinances in response.

Emergency ordinances have a shorter timeline and only require one public hearing, according to the Town Charter, but they are limited to 30 days.

Tully said the monthly meetings would benefit the board and community. The board would have less on its plate and community members interested only in climate change would have a forum.

Call for unity

At the heart of this resolution was the call for unity, he added. Most of the conversation so far has happened in activist settings, he said, and a neutral public space could bring more people - and ideas - to the conversation.

For example, people living in flood plains are at the forefront of climate-change-related damage, Tully said. They might not all believe in climate rescue measures, but they understand the damage of large storms, he added.

Tully said establishing an open and welcoming public forum would provide a place for non-activist voices. It also “expedites access” to government processes for a wide range of people.

BCS founder Kurt Daims spoke to the declaration's origin. Daims said he collaborated with people from around the world, including using language from the international coalition, The Climate Mobilization, to create the declaration.

On its website, the advocacy group writes that it wants to create a mobilization effort to remedy climate change similar to the country's mobilization after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the the U.S. into World War II.

“People are upset with their government,” Daims said. “I'm not any more upset with Brattleboro's government, I think everybody around the world is paralyzed by this terrible issue that faces us, and that is no shame on the Brattleboro Selectboard.”

He believed the declarations could break the paralysis, and that the town could become an incubator of climate remedies.

“There is a terrible, terrible need for us to take action on this,” he said, saying that it's frightening for children to hear that climate change will devastate the plant, yet see adults taking no action to fix the situation.

Differing opinion

Selectboard Chair Brandie E. Starr spoke in favor of the declaration.

She said she worried for the young people who will inherit the problem. Yet, she added, it's crucial that those who are mentoring students in political action also teach them how to successfully navigate the system.

Young activists need to know what issues are actionable at the town, versus state, versus federal levels, she said.

“National charters don't take Dillon's Rule states into account,” she said. “The writing of this resolution is why we're here for a third time.”

Board member Tim Wessel called the declaration “a mess.”

“I have a lot of problems with many parts of it” mainly because it didn't recognize the town's limited authority and power, he said.

“It is filled with vagueness,” Wessel added. “Honestly, am I optimistic or foolish? I don't feel paralyzed at all.”

Wessel also took organizers to task for using “disasterism” and words like emergency, and suggested the language of the declaration is undefined and causes fear.

Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin also spoke against the declaration, calling it a “vague anti-government screed” with a tone of “warmongering” mixed in.

“If we want collectively to affect climate change, the best thing we could do is to get the voters of New Hampshire to vote out the president,” she said.

Board member Daniel Quipp had mixed feelings about the declaration. Quipp ran for the board with climate change as one of his top issues. He also said that he had worked on similar declarations in a previous job in California.

Quipp said he would prefer to see a declaration with more concrete and actionable steps the town could take, such as committing to ending its use of fossil fuels by 2030.

In a subsequent letter to The Commons, Quipp wrote that he loved the “boldness” of the monthly hearing and emergency ordinances created through a citizen process.

“On the other hand, I feel that enacting these ordinances would go around our usual budgeting and public comment process and could potentially be impossible to enforce,” he added.

“When I asked the declaration's organizers what one of these proposals might be, they suggested a 'No Driving Day',” Quipp continued in the letter. “It's hard for me to imagine how an emergency ordinance barring people from driving in the town of Brattleboro would have any more weight than the Board imploring people to do the same.”

Ultimately, Wessel, McLoughlin, and Quipp voted against the declaration.

Acting locally

A subsequent Board vote, however, suggested that there is more than one way to walk the road of climate remedies. In the same meeting, the board approved funds for local renewable-energy projects.

Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland reminded the board that at the 2018 Annual Representative Town Meeting, Kurt Daims put forth a proposal that the town should commit to purchasing electricity through renewable resources.

Daims suggested the Green Mountain Power program called “Cow Power.” This program charges subscribers a 4-cent premium, which the company then uses to supplement renewable-energy projects. Moreland noted that most of these projects are in northern Vermont.

Moreland said staff reviewed the Daims proposal and followed up with an analysis of its energy consumption at the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

Based on that analysis, staff determines that the town derived approximately 408,328,000 kilowatt-hours from non-renewable sources. The town is one of the buyers in the Windham Solid Waste Management District's solar array on Old Ferry Road.

If the town then applies the same premium it would have paid if it subscribed to Cow Power, the surcharge would be $16,333.12, said Moreland.

Moreland proposed that the town use that amount to fund local renewable projects instead. Staff would solicit feedback from local renewable projects and bring data back to the board, he said. The board could then divide the funds among the projects as it saw fit.

“If we're going to be paying a premium to somebody, there are good folks in northern Vermont, but there are good projects in Brattleboro,” Moreland said. “And there may be good projects that could use our help but we just don't know about them.”

The board voted 4-0 to approve the plan to solicit letters of interest from local renewable-energy contractors.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates