Deb Markowitz: Vermont’s lessons from Irene influence national conversation

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Markowitz, the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.

Heat waves, heavy rainstorms, floods. That is the long-term forecast for the Northeast as a result of global climate change.

The National Climate Assessment, issued last week by the White House, provides scientific information about how climate change is impacting different regions of the country and different sectors of the economy. This comprehensive report, developed with help from hundreds of the nation’s top experts on climate change, tells us in unprecedented detail that climate change is not some future threat. It is already here, and it is affecting not just Vermont, but every part of our country and every sector of our economy. The report makes it clear that urgent action is needed to combat the threats from climate change and to ensure that our families and communities are resilient to these threats.

The National Climate Assessment is one step in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he announced last spring. In addition to taking action to cut carbon pollution (EPA announced significant new rules to reduce emissions from transportation as well as from existing and new power plants), the president committed to helping America’s communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has been recognized nationally for his leadership during Tropical Storm Irene and for the many lessons that he and all Vermonters learned about how to recover from disasters and build back stronger than before. President Obama appointed him to serve on the White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The task force is comprised of state, municipal and tribal leaders who have been delegated with developing recommendations for the administration on steps the federal government can take to support the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Gov. Shumlin’s leadership in the White House Task Force puts Vermont in a unique position to take the lessons we learned from Irene and use them to help the president build a more sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.


Our growing understanding of the ways Vermont’s climate patterns are already changing – from more frequent, intense storms, to winters with more freeze thaw cycles– makes us keenly aware that we need the support of our federal agency partners to tackle the challenges that climate change will deliver. Our experience recovering from the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene has given us many clear insights into how federal disaster recovery programs can be improved and how the federal government can help us improve the resilience of our infrastructure, communities and environment.

Through the governor’s Climate Cabinet, leaders and staff from across state government are using these lessons to develop recommendations for consideration by the president. We are reaching out to partners in the business community as well as local governments and nonprofits to develop a set of recommendations for how federal agencies can better support states and communities as we prepare for the impacts that are coming.

Our focus has been on identifying concrete ways to improve federal and state programs that address emergency management, community development and housing, natural resource management and transportation. The goal is to help our communities to:

• evaluate where they are most vulnerable
• site and build resilient infrastructure; and
• protect natural assets – whether floodplains, river corridors, upland forests or coastal dunes – that protect our built communities from damage caused by extreme weather.

I am optimistic that this process will result in improved customer service from the federal disaster recovery agencies, and better federal incentives that we can use to make Vermont’s infrastructure more resilient — from our roads and bridges to our energy and drinking water facilities. We are optimistic that this process will also result in better coordination among federal programs that provide support during and after disasters, and that we will have better data and tools to help us assess our vulnerability and plan for resilience into the future.

The findings in the National Climate Assessment underscore the need for immediate action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions – and also to prepare our communities, businesses and families for the changes that are already underway. Gov. Shumlin’s leadership in the White House Task Force puts Vermont in a unique position to take the lessons we learned from Irene and use them to help the president build a more sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.

You can see the National Climate Assessment for yourself at:

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  • Vanessa Mills

    So really, then: site renewables right…….. no industrial-scale development upon upland watersheds, Deb. The ANR and the House Natural Resources Committee and all municipal & regional planning commissions should really stand by this one and not be hamstrung by the build-em-as-fast-as-we-can ridgeline wind agenda that $humlin advocated for just a short couple years ago! Imagine the flooding issues (and $$$$ issues!) we’d be struggling with if we had gotten what Blittersdorf projected with the need for 200 miles of
    ridgeline wind in Vermont!) Wouldn’t that’ve been crazy, Deb?! No doubt.

    I hope $humlin TRULY advocates for stemming flooding impacts that would start in our mountains and flow on down thru the watershed processes, thusly impacting homes, roadways, farmlands, etc below. (Read: no more ridgeline wind and all its accompanying impacts.)

    If $humlin learned from Hurricane Irene about impacts and what swollen rivers and watersheds do….. he’ll not advocate to disturb the mountains’ watershed systems and mountains’ ecosystems any further.
    As a truly concerned leader for Vermonters, he’ll hopefully be not swayed by campaign investors’ business interests. He’ll not want Ridgeline Wind ripping up natural carbon sinks and disturbing watersheds and exacerbating river corridors and creating NEW river corridors by alterring what water naturally does on its way downhill. Ridgeline wind is a counterproductive response to climate impacts, in many ways, for a multitude of reasons.

    I beg you, and the ANR and $humlin and his admistration: VALUE the work that intact watersheds and that forest-covered carbon sinks do, for the economics and social issues these actually aide. Protect upland, lowland, woodland and wetland components ALL, as natural, working erosion ‘insurance’ and water quality facilitation. Nature has done this work since before us. VALUE how it works and protect what it does! Protect it and, in doing so, protect Vermont’s resiliency. Ignore it to our peril. Destroy it to our own detriment as well.

    Water quality preservation will be critical in a future (and in a present!) Deb Markowitz speaks to here.
    Nature’s ‘erosion insurance’ will be crucial in a future (and indeed a present!) where weather is unpredictable and rain events are heavier. We MUST choose to preserve these components that will aide in our ability to face things with resilience. And not create potential for need to recover, rebuild or struggle for water quality, post flood, due to unchecked industrial-scaled ridgeline development!

    Hopefully corporate developers and out-of-state billionaires who contribute to $humlin won’t steer him to push Big (Ridgeline) Wind down on Vermonters any further!

    LET’S DO RENEWABLES RIGHT and to scale for Vermont and sited responsibly for Vermont’s people and her environment! Community-owned, community-uniting, SMALL SCALE RENEWABLES sited right and done right will save us in the long run. Whereas Big Corporate Renewables are only subsidy grabs for corporations and tax shelters for the wealthy and costly to ratepayers, taxbase payers and flood recovery cost-payers!

  • Kathy Nelson

    It’s time to wake up and smell the lies, Deb.

    You shouldn’t be claiming to be worried about upland forests, Deb, you always go along with destroying forests, for useless industrial wind turbines, so Pete will let you keep a seat warm over at the ANR.

  • Dave Bellini

    More long winded fluff from Shumlin’s lap dog.
    How about cleaning up Lake Champlain?
    The commentary is just cheerleading; trying to get as much political mileage out of a hurricane as possible.
    How about actually DOING SOMETHING, like cleaning up Lake Champlain…….

  • Any informed Vermonter who has been paying attention knows what Markowitz has apparently just learned: “The findings in the National Climate Assessment underscore the need for immediate action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”
    Rather than lock-stepping ANR with Shumlin’s corporate-friendly energy policies, you abandoned Vermont’s communities. Long ago you should have united with Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) and/or Energize Vermont (EV). We’ve been writing, testifying, educating, speaking about the sources of Vermont’s greatest carbon emissions : Transportation and Residential/Commercial heating.
    The destruction wrought in Vermont by Irene has been repaired, restored, remediated. Try building another mountain.

  • Nancy Fried

    .Thank you Vanessa Mills for capturing the insanity of destroying Vermont’s mountains and ridgelines with 400-500 foot industrial wind developments. If Secretary Markowitz and the Governor truly believe in flood resiliency and are honest, they will put a stop to this insanity immediately. If not it’s just another political advertisement that only supports their political agenda and their out of state, out of country, corporative friends.

  • walter moses

    Has Shumlin got his ducks in line or what? No need to comment further. Same old, same old.

  • Baffling fluff.

    Vermont’s biggest lesson from Irene: we absolutely cannot rely on Federal agencies for anything. “Reslience” will begin and end within our borders, and nobody else will — or can — prepare for us.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Important lessons from Irene:
    1. Cell phones do not work during an emergency…even police radios do not work.
    2. FEMA does not help much.
    3. There were reports that the Red Cross left town and was no where to be found during the emergency?
    4. We need a supply of generators that can be rented during an emergency…especially if the next big one is during the winter.
    5. Every man for himself. (That’s not the way it is supposed to be.)

  • John Grady

    How much does the tourist industry contribute to the problem ?
    It’s not just vehicle miles traveled within the boarders of Vermont. For most tourists the the VT miles are just the last leg of the trip.
    The travel, the accommodations, the food and beverages all add up to lots of extra energy used.

    What about school activities ? How many miles are traveled by school children beyond the base need to get between their homes and schools ? Doesn’t the governors family run a business that arranges travel for school students ? Plus there is the day to day travel for sports. The propaganda machine finds children to parade out about the environment, why don’t they step up to the plate and park the soccer mom mini van or SUV ?

    Is Vermont going to restrict house size to be GREEN or put a sin tax on anything they decide is wasteful ? How big is the Governors house ?

    How about doing some Digging on the lifestyle led but all the wannabee Al Gores ?

    It’s amazing how tree huggers will go after logging but not the New York Yankee’s and the rest of the entertainment industry. Disneyland and Disneyworld 2 massive polluters and 100% waste. The miles traveled to get to those places is massive.

    Vermont’s congressman Welch is trying to get a federal $10,000 GREEN car rebate passed and The State of Vermont isn’t even thinking about exempting GREEN cars from the sales tax.

    Lots of drama but no real action because the drama queens just want attention without doing anything which would involve stepping on some toes.

    “the need for immediate action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions”

    I didn’t notice a list of things to address in the article. Does the word immediate mean like right now ? starting today or tomorrow ?
    It’s not a new topic and still no list ?

    The President has called for shutting down coal fired power plans. How about shutting down the tourist an entertainment industry ? Golf should be the first to go.