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Welch talks policy with climate students during Lyndon visit

March 9, 2020
In The News

LYNDON — Students studying climate science at Northern Vermont University sought advice from Rep. Peter Welch on messaging and more during a forum at the college Friday.

“In facing the problem instead of ignoring it or denying it, we actually can create jobs, we can create opportunity and oh, by the way, we can reduce carbon emissions,” the seven-term Democrat told the group of about 15 people at the Lyndon campus. “That you’re engaged in this right now — that is so good.”

The congressman opened the event by speaking about the need to push for sustainable energy policy while acknowledging that people in industries like coal mining will face a tough transition in finding work. 

He described meeting miners in West Virginia with another congressional representative and likened the decline those rural residents have faced to those known well in the Northeast Kingdom.

Janel Hanrahan, a professor in the college’s atmospheric sciences department, asked Welch what more scientists could do to engage with the public about climate change.

“We talk to each other, we publish in peer-reviewed journals, we go to conferences — but the conversations that are happening at these conferences are completely different than conversations that are happening on the street,” Hanrahan said. 

Welch said scientists should continue to focus on their research and leave the rest to other realms. 

“You’ve got your job in academics and science; the commercial industry has its job for execution, implementation; and public policy has its job,” he said, adding later, “It’s not on you alone.”

Atmospheric sciences sophomore Maison DeJesus brought up the Green New Deal — a legislative package backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose presidential run Welch supports  — and wondered about the best political strategy for getting it passed.

“Do you think it would be more beneficial to break it up into smaller pieces of legislation to persuade more politicians to get on board?” asked DeJesus.

If given a choice between doing something today that would reduce carbon emissions by 10% or holding off to go for 100%, “I’ll go for that 10% today and wake up the next day and go for 90,” Welch said.

He said that in politics, there’s a “moral tension” between going for broke or settling for incremental change. In retrospect, he said, he finds accomplishment in steady progress over years. 

Patrick Wickstrom, another atmospheric sciences sophomore, followed up with a similar question: How is Welch working with representatives across the aisle to move climate-related initiatives through the legislative process?

“Your point about listening to the other side is really important and ideal, and we’ve lost it in Washington right now, to our detriment,” Welch said.

He referenced holding lasagna dinners with D.C. legislators wary about the federal 2009 climate bill to persuade them, something described in a Seven Days story from that year.

Asked by state Sen. Party: DEM./REP.

Residence: DANVILLE, VT

View all legislator information" href="https://vtdigger.org/glossary/jane-kitchel/" target="_blank">Jane Kitchel
, D-Caledonia, about how ideology plays a role in the climate policy debate, Welch criticized the Trump administration for upending environmental regulations.

“This blind opposition to using some tools that when properly used are really effective — like proper regulation — means you’re creating a doomsday scenario for everybody,” he said.