Vermont Winter Olympians call for action on climate change

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Vermont Winter Olympians call for action on climate change

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 5:37am -- tim

by John Herrick When Vermont’s Olympic cross-country ski racers started skiing as children, they could set out from their doorsteps on a solid surface of snow. Now, they say the snow is disappearing, and their professional careers are threatened by climate change. After returning from the ski season in Europe, 2014 Olympic Winter Games biathlete Hannah Dreissigacker and other Vermont Olympians came to Morse Farm Ski Center in East Montpelier to call for action on climate change.

“We need to put a price on carbon emissions,” Dreissgacker said.

The 27-year-old Morrisville native, who often flies around the world to race and visit friends and family, said even her own carbon-intensive lifestyle is disguised by the low cost of fossil fuels, which doesn’t reflect the larger cost to the environment, she said.

“When we burn fuel, we’re paying for the fuel and we’re not paying for all the damage that that fuel does,” she said. “The idea of putting a price on carbon is that suddenly we’re paying for what that fuel should actually cost.”

Lawmakers this year did not propose a carbon tax. Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, has said Vermont has one chance to get the policy right.

A carbon tax is among the policy options the Department of Public Service highlighted in its most recent draft Total Energy Study (TES), a document designed to guide the state closer to its comprehensive goal of meeting 90 percent of Vermont’s overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2050.

Dreissigacker and other Vermont cross-country ski racers were alarmed by the worsening snow conditions at many of Europe’s most popular World Cup venues this year.

Nordic skier Liz Stephen, 27, is a two-time Olympian from East Montpelier. She said the majority of her races this year were on narrow man-made tracks of slushy snow colored brown with rocks and dirt.

“It really seems this year, especially, that the venues we went to had much less snow than usual, even the ones we could count on in the past to have good snow,” she said.

That’s why during her off-season break this month she came home to ask Vermont to take the lead on climate change policy.

Ida Sargent, 26, got her start in Nordic ski racing in Barton. She too called for action.

“I could just go outside and ski from my door,” Sargent said. “And that sport is changing now. And it’s very visible both here in Vermont and in Europe.”

The warm winter season last year forced her and her teammates to race laps on short man-made snow tracks one mile in length. This is very different from the skiing she experienced growing up.

“It’s not going to continue our sport as the way we’ve known it and in the tradition that has grown in Vermont,” she said, “because it limits the accessibility of the sport because only certain places can manufacture and build snow like that.”

She said Vermont should model Europe’s action on carbon emissions: smaller cars, public transportation, and rooftop solar, for example.

This includes supporting Vermont’s current move toward industrial renewable power, such as the Kingdom Community Wind Project in Lowell, a project that has stirred an emotional debate on the state’s energy future.

“I think that this is a huge step forward for Vermont,” she said. “And I’m actually proud to live so close to both of those, and I hope that other areas in Vermont and New England will also continue this movement.”

Biathlete Susan Dunklee, 28, earned the nation’s top Olympic sprint finish for women this year. She grew up near Crystal Lake in Barton, which she described as “wild and rugged.”

But now she is worried the Montreal-Portland Pipeline, which brings crude oil from South Portland, Maine, to Montreal, could be reversed to bring heavy Canadian crude oil. Canadian tar sands oil is more energy-intensive to extract and is difficult to clean up because it contains bitumen, which sinks to the bottom of waterways.

“So I’m a little bit worried about that. But that aside – even if we were not to have a leak, the old pipeline worked out fine – the fact is, we’re enabling a system that’s depending on fossil fuels,” she said. “We need to be finding more creative solutions.”

On Town Meeting Day this year, 13 towns opposed reversing the flow of the pipeline. On Monday, a representative for the company said it does not plan to reverse the flow of the pipeline.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council and National Wildlife Federation hosted the news conference.

Johanna Miller, energy program director for the VNRC, said the testimony is affirmation that climate change is happening rapidly around the world.

“There hasn’t been … enough talk about the urgency of climate change,” she said. “And we have some young ladies who have dedicated their lives to building a professional career in an industry that could be dying.”

Olympic cross-country ski racers, left to right, Ida Sargent, Hannah Dreissigacker, Liz Stephen and Susan Dunklee came to the Morse Farm Ski Center in East Montpelier to call for action on climate change. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger