As Vermonters begin to welcome fall, the state’s environment goes through its many visible changes – and as the legislative session looms, policy concerns are coloring the public discourse.
The prevalence of “fuel poverty” is a hotbed issue likely to be contested, especially following Efficiency Vermont’s recent report documenting energy expenditures and burdens. The study found that transportation costs—for which there are few assistance programs, especially in rural regions—made up the largest portion of energy spending.
Thermal (heat) and electricity spending, however, also constituted a significant amount of the energy cost. In parts of Rutland and St. Albans, the combined average electricity and thermal burdens were estimated to be over 12 percent of median income.
Definitions of fuel poverty are variable, but families spending more than 6 to 10 percent of household income on heating and electricity costs are considered to be living under the umbrella of fuel poverty. Under these standards, some Vermonters are highly fuel impoverished—a reality that becomes inescapable when winter descends.
This issue may be something of a surprise to citizens who view the state as a hub of sustainable energy. To be fair, the Vermont government is unusual in its promotion of green energy—and has created a regional identity characterized by environmentalism and independence from the status quo.
Richard Kujawa and his associates at Saint Michael’s College studied this phenomenon in a recent paper, examining Vermont’s relationship with Quebec and the Vermont-Canada border as a “regionalism” in sustainability. The authors see this as a facet of a larger movement toward regional sustainability, even as society collectively faces the global need to reduce emissions.
Within Vermont’s borders, degrees of sustainability have varied across different sectors and environmental components. The state’s wooded areas are under the constant siege of suburban and residential sprawl—1,500 acres of forestland disappear annually, according to a recent study conducted by Wildlands and Woodlands. That figure leaps to 24,000 lost acres each year when the margins are expanded to the entirety of New England’s forests.
Although Vermont’s vanishing forestland is dire for species that called the newly developed areas home, all is not lost for the state’s wildlife. On the contrary, wild brook trout populations have remained stable since the 1950s, according to a new report by Vermont Fish and Wildlife.
After collecting data from 138 streams within 17 watersheds, the researchers found that the state’s official cold water fish is thriving—despite the specie’s decline as a whole.
This is especially good news for Vermont’s aquatic environments—since brook trout need cold, clean water at high elevations to survive, their survival is indicative of a healthy freshwater ecosystem.
The state has made definitive strides toward sustainability, but still requires unyielding attention—from citizens and lawmakers alike—to ensure that we continue to collectively prioritize “green” initiatives.
Kirsti Blow is a junior public communication major at University of Vermont. She writes the briefs for UVM’s Vermont research newsletter published by the Center for Research on Vermont. Learn more at http://www.uvm.edu/~crvt/. Kirsti is also a communications and marketing intern for NOFA-VT.