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Former Vermont Governor Takes On Climate, Reflects On Legacy

Mar 2, 2017

Former Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin recently visited Wesleyan University to reflect on his career and discuss ways to combat climate change.

"What I've learned is talk more about the economic benefits than the environmental benefits," Shumlin told students. "I hate to say it, but when we Wesleyan graduates talk about environmental benefits, to most of America, they say, 'Well there they go again, those lefty wackos.'"

Shumlin graduated from Wesleyan in 1979 with a degree in  government.

He was governor of Vermont from 2011 to 2016 and led the state through the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

"It destroyed us. It literally destroyed our state," he said. "We had no way to get east to west on the roads. We lost 500 miles of roads. We lost 34 bridges. We lost seven great Vermonters," Shumlin said. "That was a teeny, teeny indicator of what lies ahead for us even if we do everything right going forward.

During his tenure, Shumlin advocated for more solar panels in the state -- pushing for reimbursements to utility customers who put excess solar power back into the grid.

"If you go and talk today to the CEO of Green Mountain Power," Shumlin said, "she will tell you our business model is no longer poles and wires selling excess juice as much as we can. Our business model now is … we'll offer to come into your home … rip out your doors and windows and we'll replace them with energy efficient materials." 

Damage caused by flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene on the Ottauquechee River in Quechee, Vermont.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

"The amazing thing is, it's working," Shumlin said. "It's working so well that I had tremendous local pushback because if you drive through Vermont now, you can’t go half a mile – and I’m not exaggerating -- without seeing solar panels and a lot people think they're ugly."

Shumlin told students if they want to see changes in environmental policy, get active -- and start by going to meetings at local utilities, school boards, and town government.

"If a little state of Vermont, with 650,000 people, can change the face of the way we do energy in six years, you all can change the face of the way you do energy everywhere in America by getting involved," Shumlin said. "That's my message. Trump can’t stop us. Like Obama said, he's a period on the page, not the end of the story."

WNPR's TiAnna Taylor contributed to this report.