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Welch aims to be “coolest” congressman

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted February 5, 2007

WASHINGTON — Calling the issue of climate change “real, urgent, and requiring action,” Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, pledged to make his congressional offices in Vermont and Washington “carbon neutral.”

The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “report puts to rest any doubts on climate change and confirms beyond a doubt that human activity is a major cause,” said Welch.

The UN report, issued Feb. 2, suggests that global temperatures will rise by 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase. The report also stated that human-made greenhouse gas emissions were “very likely” to be altering the planet’s overall climate.

Despite this growing consensus, there remain skeptics that human-made emissions are having as significant an impact as believed. And, the UN report was also criticized for being too “conservative” in its estimation of how high the world’s sea levels will rise.

In Feb. 5 news conference, Welch said he was signing onto Rep. Henry Waxman’s Safe Climate Act, in which the California Democrat is calling for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and boosts in automobile mileage standards.

As part of Welch’s efforts to become carbon neutral, he is personally investing in two Vermont-based renewable energy projects that will “offset” the amount of carbon dioxide — 56 tons — his operations produce annually.

That’s the equivalent of taking 10 cars off the road in a year — cars that drive 12,000 miles and get 20 miles to the gallon, according to Tom Boucher of NativeEnergy in Charlotte, who is helping Welch offset his carbon dioxide emissions. The Native American-owned company specializes in “carbon offsets” or the practice of calculating a business’ or individual’s carbon impact on the world, and what it would cost to offset that by investing in renewable energy projects.

“By embracing the challenge of global warming, we can open the door to innovative local approaches as we work toward solutions,” said Welch.

Prohibited by current law from using federal funds allotted for office operations, Welch has to use personal funds to pay the $672 cost for the carbon offsets to NativeEnergy, a national leader in carbon offset providers.

Welch began looking at this a few weeks ago, and approached NativeEnergy to help his office determine its “carbon footprint.” Once the amount was determined, Welch and his staff worked with NativeEnergy to find Vermont-based projects it could support.

The projects helped by Welch’s efforts are the first Vermont-based renewable energy projects supported by NativeEnergy. Most of its projects are in Alaska and Pennsylvania.

Because he can’t use his office budget to pay for this program, Welch said he would introduce legislation allowing all congressional offices as well as 132 federal agencies to account for their environmental impact through such offset programs.

“We know we have to take hundreds — thousands — of steps to eliminate or substantially reduce our impact on global warming, and I think this is just one way to do that,” said Welch.

The carbon neutral initiative will account for the fuel and electricity-related emissions created by Welch’s two offices, regular roundtrip air travel from Vermont to Washington, and car travel throughout the state by Welch and his staff.

The projects slated to be built with the help of Welch’s offset contribution are a methane digester project on a Westminster dairy farm and a biomass pellet-fired boiler that will replace a fossil fuel-fired boiler at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

“We are thrilled about the leadership Congressman Welch is providing and look forward to his help in developing these new renewable projects that benefit Vermonters and reduce carbon emissions,” said Boucher.

In addition to the partnership with NativeEnergy, Vermont Technical College, and the Westminster dairy farm for the offsets, Welch’s office is working with Burlington Electric Department and Efficiency Vermont to help reduce his office’s overall energy use and its resulting “carbon footprint.”

Initially, that will mean changing office lights from regular bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, and it may mean coordinating car travel.

Welch said Vermont’s energy portfolio is not very carbon-heavy, thanks to contracts with Hydro Quebec and Vermont Yankee. In fact, his 2,000-square-foot office in Burlington creates 700 pounds of carbon dioxide, while his 863-square-foot office in Washington creates 7 tons of carbon dioxide.

Bill McKibben of Ripton and author of The End of Nature said, “Peter Welch deserves great credit for putting his office in order energy-wise and for working to point the House and the nation in the right direction too. He offers the personal and the political action we so badly need — and along the way he is supporting the local economies that may someday provide the real exit from our current dilemma.”

NativeEnergy works with many companies in Vermont, such as Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort, and the Middlebury ski team. The Middlebury Snow Bowl is believed to be the first ski area in the country that is carbon neutral. (Read a related story here).

It is also providing all of the carbon offsets for the film An Inconvenient Truth — including former Vice Pres. Al Gore’s travel associated with the ongoing promotion of the film.

Boucher said the farm involved in the project helping out Welch will receive nearly $100,000 in upfront payments, and will also work with Green Mountain Power to set up a purchase agreement to buy the power created by the installment of a methane digester.