By Kirk Carapezza
As lawmakers turn their attention to climate change this week, business leaders and farmers were at the Statehouse Wednesday morning to talk about how it affects their operations and their bottom lines.
Joe Fusco, the vice president of Casella Waste Systems, said the solid waste company sees climate change as part of a larger issue around resource sustainability. So a few years ago, Fusco said, Casella had an epiphany: It decided to consider what the world would expect from it in 10, 20 or 30 years.
“What we realized is that our business model was upside-down, and that what the world was going to expect from us was to be part of the solution – to use our creativity and our intelligence to solve the problem of the world’s resource limits,” Fusco said in his testimony before a joint meeting of the House Natural Resources and Energy, Commerce and Agriculture committees. “The climate we live in is a resource and it is limited and it is begging for us to do something about its sustainability.”
Fusco said the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have prompted the company to spend more money, disrupting service schedules and storm water management in its 10 solid waste landfills in the Northeast.
Ski executives said shorter winter seasons have diminished their profits. And farmers testified that the volatile temperatures have made it increasingly difficult to plan ahead of their growing seasons.
In the early days of this biennium, House Commerce Committee Chair Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, said the Legislature should develop a deeper understanding of both the climate and business challenges facing Vermont.
“I don’t think the purpose here is to slow global warming,” Botzow said. “I think the purpose is to position our businesses to be successful and sustainable in the world.”
While some state and federal lawmakers are calling for tighter emission standards and a tax on carbon, Botzow said any changes in regulations will test the resolve of contemporary business in Vermont.
“There is nothing that is painless that is out there,” Botzow said, referring to climate change policies. “We can’t get trapped into only looking at the downside. The biggest risk of all is missing opportunities that come with climate change while also dealing with the inevitable pieces that we do face in volatile weather.”
For the past 18 months, Noelle MacKay, the Commissioner of Economic Housing and Community Development, has been looking at those opportunities in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.
MacKay said 200 to 400 businesses were affected by Irene’s floodwaters, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates extreme weather events tend to knock out 25-60 percent of small businesses.
The state wants to look closely at community resiliency following flooding. “But to do that you need more information,” MacKay said. “So to say you’re not going to do any development in the floodplain. We don’t really know if that’s the right approach.”
The state is working with the Agency of Natural Resources to develop maps that identify flood-prone regions and how they overlap with Vermont’s economic development areas.