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Center for Research on Vermont

Marshall Distel: A UVM Reflection

Posted: May 14th, 2015 by crvt

10653381_10206629827891024_7440183871786067122_nAs a student within the Geography Department at the University of Vermont, I have been provided with a unique set of opportunities and experiences that have significantly supported my growth as a student and as a person. As I look back on the four years that I have studied at UVM, I’ve realized that my most valuable experiences have come as a result of exploring opportunities related to internships, studying abroad, and service-learning. When I started looking at colleges while still in high school, I remember that one of my main objectives was to find a school in a faraway place where I could experience something completely different from Vermont, but financially it seemed to make more sense to stay in-state. Therefore, during the fall of 2011, I was fairly hesitant about starting my tenure at UVM. However, I soon began to find comfort here after becoming involved with the Integrated Study of Earth and the Environment (ISEE) Program. With this program, I was able to live and attend classes with a small group of students from around the country who all shared a similar interest in studying the environment.

Unlike many other first-year students, I came to UVM knowing exactly what I wanted to study. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to pursue a profession that would allow me to alleviate problems relating to transportation tfair2and sustainability. I first truly became interested in transportation after noticing the traffic impacts of the annual Tunbridge Fair (which I’ve attended nearly every year of my life). Thus, during the course of my undergraduate career, I’ve been most interested in studying methods to reduce car dependency, encourage sustainable patterns of development, and promote alternative forms of transportation. I’ve enrolled in nearly every transportation-related class that the UVM has to offer, and I’m passionate about researching innovative methods to develop sustainable transportation. When I first discovered geography at UVM, I knew that I would be able to focus my studies on subjects that related to my specific interests.

Fortunately, many of the service-learning and geography courses that I have taken have provided me with a valuable set of skills that enabled me to participate in a variety of internships. For the past two summers I have worked as a IMG_2607transportation planning intern with the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission. At these planning organizations, I worked alongside state officials to develop transportation plans, implement climate change mitigation strategies, research the cost of maintaining Vermont’s roads, and conduct municipal infrastructure inventories using ArcGIS. My time as a geography student made me well-equipped to undertake those internships.

IMG_4651Throughout my time at the UVM, I’ve taken advantage of a variety of opportunities related to community planning and sustainability. While studying abroad in Spain in 2013, I was awarded a research travel grant from the Oaklawn Foundation to travel to Madrid, Barcelona, Geneva, and Zurich to study how sustainable transportation and dense development can benefit communities environmentally, economically, and socially. Additionally, during the fall of 2014, I directed a campaign for the Vermont Public Research Interest Group in order to promote bold action against climate change within the State Legislature and to support Vermont’s renewable energy plan.1236080_10202226706015729_17846302_n

During my last semester at UVM, I interned in the Vermont Legislature on the House Transportation Committee. I worked alongside Rep. Curt McCormack on issues related to passenger rail service, sustainable transportation policy, and reducing the use of single occupancy vehicles in Vermont. Additionally, I have spent 10 hours a week interning at the Center for Research on Vermont, for which I am responsible for email communications, event planning, tracking Vermont-related eNews, and public outreach to promote Vermont research.

As my four-year journey at UVM now nears the final phase, I am fortunate to have taken advantage of all the opportunities that I have been offered. I take pride in the fact that I have been involved with internships, studying abroad, and extracurricular associations such as the Geography Club and Gamma Theta Upsilon. As a result of these experiences and my overall academic achievements at UVM, I accepted a full-time position as a transportation planner with the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission. I feel incredibly fortunate to not only have a job directly related to the coursework that I have studied while at UVM, but to also be working for an organization that is also passionate about sustainability.

Marshall Distel is a senior Geography major at UVM from Tunbridge, Vermont.


Cross-currents Abound at UVM Hydro Forum

Posted: March 30th, 2015 by crvt

Universities and colleges provide a unique opportunity to bring diverse perspectives into the public conversation.

PFTN1 As the organizers of the Power from the North conference at University of Vermont this past week we were proud to do just that.

More than 250 participants convened for a genuine discussion illustrating distinct perspectives, some fundamental tensions, as well as some opportunities for agreement as we look to our energy future.

The conference was set against the backdrop of a very current conversation in Vermont and New England. Québec has hydro-electric resources that could help alleviate the region’s overwhelming dependence on natural (methane) gas while moving towards meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.

But at what price would that power come? How would it get there? And if new transmission lines are required, as seems likely, where would they go, who would benefit?

What are the social, environmental and economic consequences?

Regional policy-makers, business leaders and academics gathered to debate these questions, looking at the past, present and future.

PFTN2‘The Past’ segment grappled with the complex history that created the conditions of the present:

A former Vermont regulator explained how the administration of former Gov. Richard Snelling looked north in an effort to secure cheap, reliable power.

A Québec historian described the rise of Hydro-Québec, not merely as a public power company, but as a “social project” by and for French Canadians seeking political and economic mastery in their own house during the 1960s’ Quiet Revolution.

Innu Chief Ghislain Picard forcefully described Hydro-Québec’s failures to consult with or compensate First Nation peoples until the 1970s, the improvements since that time, and the tribes’ continuing frustrations to win a seat at the decision-making table.

Opening a discussion of ‘The Present,’ the operator of the New England grid described new transmission projects that could bring additional power from the North, and the current dominant role played by natural gas in the region’s energy mix.

A regional environmental leader reminded the audience of the enormity of impending change with climate instability, and the urgent imperative to reduce fossil-fuel reliance.

The final session moderated by Vermont Law School’s Michael Dworkin looked to the future with Green Mountain Power President and CEO, Mary Powell, showcasing innovations of electric utilities that have begun to envision a very different relationship with their customers and how they might provide energy services in the future.

The massive scale of impending change in energy systems and the imperative to counter the pervasive fossil-fuel culture was articulated by a former energy regulator in Massachusetts.PFTN3

These speakers’ visions of future change, which emphasized the positive potential of distributed (decentralized) renewable generation, were juxtaposed with the perspective of the Québec Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, who described a future in which large-scale hydropower can play an increasingly critical role in meeting energy demand and “de-carbonizing” regional electric systems.

Given the complexities of the many issues associated with large-scale hydropower and the diversity of perspectives among key actors, this conference provided a valuable place for rich discussion and open and genuine discourse.

The conference did not promote a specific agenda or favor one perspective over another.

In that spirit, proceedings, video interviews and a summary report will all be made publicly available within 30 days. To be added to the mailing list for this report, email crvt@uvm.edu.

The Greying of Vermont: A Conversation with Art Woolf, PhD.

Posted: January 31st, 2015 by crvt

Vermont’s aging population, low birth rates and shrinking work-force have drawn the attention of policy-makers and citizens. The changing demographics will have profound impacts on the state’s economic and social structures.

UVM Economics Professor Art Woolf has been studying the issue for years, presenting the first warnings in the late 1990s and continuing to explore the changing demographics and implications for the state since.

See our brief video with Art Woolf.

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Dr. Woolf joined the Economics Department at UVM in1980 after receiving his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Starting in 1988, Dr. Woolf spent three years as the State Economist for Governor Madeleine Kunin — where he worked first-hand applying economic principles to public policy issues. Dr. Woolf has continued to engage with state policy as a writer, economist and frequent commentator (see his columns in The Burlington Free Press and his commentaries and interviews on Vermont Public Radio).

The Center for Research on Vermont sat down with Art Woolf to discuss changes in Vermont’s demographics.


CRVT: What can you tell us about the issue of Vermont’s changing demographics?

Woolf: One of the issues that I became aware of ten or fifteen years ago, was Vermont’s changing demographics, and by that I mean it’s changing age structure. It was pretty apparent to me by looking at the numbers that Vermont was aging much more rapidly and we were not growing as fast in terms of overall population as most other states. In fact we were down near the bottom in population growth, up near the top in the growth of the older population, and I thought that was going to have some very serious ramifications on the state economy and on the way we live over the next 20 years or so. That was maybe ten years ago or more, and it’s now pretty obvious to everyone that our demographics are very different from the nation and most other states. And this process is going to continue to unfold for at least the next fifteen years and probably beyond that.

CRVT: What are some of the implications of these findings?

Woolf: In fifteen years, roughly 1 in 4 Vermonters will be over the age of 65. Obviously that means that there’s not as many people working or available to work. And people who are retired don’t earn as much as people who work. So we have two things to think about: number one, where are employers in Vermont going to get their workers if the working age population—people between 18 and 65—is declining? And the second thing is, if people over 65 tend not to earn as much as people under the age of 65, because they’re relying on their retirement income and social security, what’s going to happen to state tax revenue growth, especially income taxes? They’re not going to go down to zero, but the projections of tax revenue growth have to be predicated on a certain number of people working and earning an income.

So the state is going to be under some serious financial pressure, and we’re already seeing that now for the upcoming budget for the legislature that meets in 2015. The fiscal year 2016 state budget has a $100 million projected shortfall. Part of that, not all of it, but part of that is due to the decreasing number of workers in Vermont, and that’s going to be a continual problem. On the other hand, the private sector is going to have a hard time finding qualified workers, and it’s not just qualified high-skill workers, it’s qualified semi-skilled workers, and qualified unskilled workers. We’re going to be seeing a lot of “Help Wanted” signs all over the place, and it’s going to be a concern for Vermont employers.

CRVT: Is there any variation in this pattern in parts of the state?

W: If we look at the state as a whole, this demographic change is playing out differently and will play out differently in the future. First of all, greater Chittenden county is doing relatively well compared to the rest of the state. It’s still not doing as well as the nation as a whole in terms of population and number of young people, but it’s better than the rest of the state, which means there have to be some parts of the state which are not doing very well in terms of this demographic change that’s occurring. That’s especially true for the four southern counties of the state, where the total population, not just the working age population, is less today than it was in 2000.

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CRVT: What suggestions do you suggest.

Woolf: I think what we need to do to reverse this demographic decline is try to make Vermont a very inviting place, not only for people of any age to come, but especially for businesses to come or to expand. And the two of them are going to work together. If there are more people businesses are going to be more likely to locate here because there are people as customers and as workers. People are the prime resource for any business. And if there are more businesses here, people are more likely to move here to work for them. It’s a double-edged sword, and we need to figure out how to keep both edges sharp.

Jim Douglas: Guest Blog (from The Vermont Way)

Posted: November 4th, 2014 by crvt

[From the 2002 campaign] Jason Gibbs, my communications director, drove me around most of the time in the home stretch. I was lucky to have a stable of twenty-something’s on my team. I don’t know if they kept me young, but they kept me going! Jason bur0829douglashistoryc1navigated in my 2000 Dodge Neon, which became a symbol of my frugality. It had no air conditioning or power-anything. It was fuel-efficient and lasted until 2011, when at 143,000 miles with a lot of rust and many strange, troubling noises, I traded it in.

We scheduled a lot of ‘sign waves;’ that’s where a group of supporters, sometimes with the candidate, stand at a busy intersection with a campaign banner and wave wildly to the passing traffic, with the hope of eliciting a response, either a wave or a honk. It’s hard to measure the efficacy of any single activity, but I think these events serve to get the candidate’s name before the public and to demonstrate momentum. When I was waving to traffic in a downpour or blizzard, I always wondered if motorists would be more inclined to vote for me because I’m so dedicated to the cause that I’m there in such terrible weather or less likely to support me because they think I’m not smart enough to go inside.

Obama-moving-sofa_1394472iEach year at the State Dinner the President offers a toast to the nation’s governors and the chairman of NGA reciprocates with a toast to the President and the country. In 2010 that duty fell to me. The President went to the podium and fulfilled his responsibility, after which he proclaimed, “Let’s eat!” His staff nervously reminded him that I was standing off to the side and was prepared to offer my toast. “Oh, wait a minute!” he said, quieting the crowd just as the guests had begun to chatter among themselves. “This isn’t the waiter,” he said, looking at me in my tuxedo. “This is Governor Douglas, who’d like to offer a toast.” I did and we enjoyed a nice meal. President Obama got some grief for relying more heavily than his predecessors on a teleprompter from which he delivered speeches. In fact, some wags began to refer to the Teleprompter of the United States, or TOTUS. That evening he didn’t use one, but the text of his toast was taped to the podium. Mine was offered without notes.


Jim Douglas was first elected to the Vermont House in 1972, just months after graduating from Middlebury College. In 1994, Douglas became State Treasurer and was re-elected three times. In 2002, he was elected to the first of four terms as Vermont’s 80th Governor.

The Vermont Way is published by Common Ground, New Haven Vermont. For more information http://www.thevermontway.us/

To write a guest blog for the Center for Research on Vermont contact Center Director, Richard Watts at rwatts@uvm.edu.

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