As a citizen of Irasburg, in the heart of the Northeast Kingdom, I’ve seen the impact of policies and decisions made in Montpelier on almost every aspect of life in Vermont towns. The heavy hand of state government on our local communities is what made me decide to run for the state Legislature. With our Northeast Kingdom towns facing critical challenges, from energy siting to education to our economy, it seemed like time to speak up.
The issue that first got my attention, because it’s literally in my own backyard, concerns the siting of industrial wind turbines on Northeast Kingdom ridgelines. It opened my eyes to the way our state government operates and convinced me that things need to change.
In mid-2015, the residents of Irasburg learned of a developer’s proposal to build two 500-foot industrial wind towers on our town’s dominant ridgeline. As we set out to learn more about industrial wind, we got quite an education.
We learned that the NEK already produces more electricity than we can use; that only big subsidies from taxpayers and ratepayers make wind projects profitable; that turbine construction disrupts ridgeline ecosystems, with minimal climate benefits; that the state’s Public Service Board has the final say in energy siting, no matter what local communities decide. Perhaps most troubling, we learned that throughout Vermont, industrial wind projects turn neighbor against neighbor, town against town, and local citizens against state government.
No wonder that Irasburg voted against industrial wind, 274 to 9. As we know, however, the non-elected state Public Service Board is free to ignore that decision.
Wind energy’s effect on climate change may be debatable, but this much is for sure: something is wrong with a siting process that has half the citizens of our state so mad at the other half we can’t even talk to each other. Any process in which the state forcibly and consistently overrides the democratically expressed views of local citizens is not sustainable, and it’s not right. It’s not the kind of Vermont I want to live in.
As responsible Vermonters and citizens of the world, of course we must address climate change. However, we need to do it in accord with the durable Vermont principles of respect for the environment, sound economics, and regard for community values.
The good news is, we can do this.
In my career as communication director for Fermilab, a national laboratory dedicated to research in particle physics, I learned firsthand the power of public participation that brings stakeholders from every point of view on an issue together in a remarkable process of discovery and collaboration.
True public participation goes far beyond a feel-good exercise in “Why can’t we all just get along?”. It results in decisions and policies that are better for all stakeholders, however opposed their initial positions, than any of them could have imagined or achieved alone. I’ve seen it work time and again. It can work for us in Vermont to address climate change and other critical issues.
Energy siting first focused my attention on state government. What I found in Montpelier disturbed me. I think most Vermonters would be as shocked as I was at the sheer number of corporate lobbyists doing business in our statehouse, day in and day out. It sometimes looked as if professional lobbyists, not citizen legislators, were running the place.
It’s time to put citizens, not lobbyists, back in charge. If I am elected, I will work to make the voices of Northeast Kingdom citizens heard loud and clear in policy and decision-making in Vermont state government.
Judith Jackson, of Irasburg, is a candidate for the Vermont Representative from Orleans-2.
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