Editorial: Signs of progress for 2016

When selecting the top 10 stories of the prior year, our emphasis is placed on the stories’ importance to the area in the short-term and the long-term consequences. Thus, when Vermont Gas Systems and International Paper Corporation abandoned the natural gas line expansion through Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham, and the Phase 1 pipeline came under review by the Public Service Board, the impact on the broader Addison County community vaulted the issue into the prime spot.
The story has greater importance when considered in the context of climate change and as part of the worldwide debate on curbing consumption of fossil fuels to cut carbon dioxide emissions. As part of that debate, protesters have interrupted meetings, chained themselves to office doors and temporarily blocked the Champlain Bridge—all this past year—in an effort to draw attention to the issue, and to bring what pressure they can to prevent further building of infrastructure that would increase fossil fuel consumption. Meanwhile, many in the business community (and others) have argued that fuels like natural gas currently are not only less expensive (therefore, making living in Vermont more affordable) but also create less carbon pollution than oil, making it a bridge fuel until renewable energy can meet current demand.
The gray area within this debate, and the huge consequences, make energy consumption—and its production—the issue that won’t go away. Other than the pipeline controversy, the siting of solar energy arrays (our Number 3 story) has been an equally vexing topic among local communities and affected neighbors of those projects. Loose siting standards and a lack of local control have been the cause of much of the angst within communities, and that has spawned a backlash against the industry. Recognizing the problem, a legislative task force was created last session and has been working throughout the summer and fall to create better standards, which will hopefully provide better outcomes and less friction in the upcoming year.
It is such hope on the horizon that keeps us optimistic as we look ahead to 2016. While problems abound, as a society we do address them as best we can, and sometimes we even make progress.
• Climate change: 25-plus years ago it was a radical idea outlined in a book by Ripton author Bill McKibben. Just a year or two ago, it was still considered by some deniers to be a liberal hoax, but no longer. Today, it’s a worldwide concern that has motivated significant change nationally, internationally and locally. People can argue that it may be too little, too late; but it is finally a movement that has captured the world’s attention and spurred action. That’s progress, and the seeds of hope.
• Solar siting: It’s a new problem that the state is somewhat belatedly addressing under the pressure of municipalities. The good news is that the public still overwhelmingly approves of solar power, and Vermont has plenty of access to open land on which to locate solar arrays. When the only question is how to site solar arrays in a way that doesn’t destroy the state’s aesthetics, you would think good answers could be found.
• School budgets and reform under Act 46: The nut of the issue is that Vermont faces a declining student population, too few students in too many small school districts, and limited dollars to finance an equitable education for all. Despite doomsday predictions from legislative opponents last session, the law has been a surprising success so far, and there is a sense of optimism that the current movement will yield positive results.
• While water quality in Lake Champlain has been on the decline for decades, Gov. Shumlin and the Legislature—with the EPA forcing the issue—passed a bill to clean up the lake and improve water quality. Addison County farmers (and many others) will have to change some of their ways and be better stewards of their land and agricultural waste, and it won’t be without cost, but the outlook is promising.
Not all things have progressed favorably—health care reform, the fight against drug addiction, the railway underpasses in Middlebury, to name a few—but no one said life’s a bed of roses. So even as the struggle continues, let us all wish each other the best of health and happiness in the New Year.
Angelo S. Lynn

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