Economic

ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES

[Using Our Resources Intelligently][Savings in the Workplace]

 

Many businesses choose to locate in Vermont because of our attractive and relatively unspoiled environment, and our landscape is an essential element, if not the very foundation, of our tourism industry. Whether the challenge is keeping our skies free of polluted haze or reducing the volume of hazardous waste produced in a manufacturing process, industries from commercial printers to innkeepers are finding that pollution prevention pays.

Economic sidebarsAll this has made an increasing number of Vermonters realize that the environmental quality and economic vitality of our state are firmly linked.

After manufacturing, travel is the second largest industry in Vermont, providing diversity and stability to our economy. The travel industry provides more than $1.7 billion to the state's economy and employs more than 46,000 individuals. Inquiries to Vermont reached their highest level ever in 1995, with approximately 270,000 people calling for information about travelling to Vermont, an increase of about 50 percent in two years. Welcome center registrations and the number of international visitors have also dramatically increased during the past two years.

Maintaining the unique scenic beauty of the Green Mountain State enriches the quality of life for all Vermonters, and also attracts substantial amounts of tourism dollars. Enjoyment of our scenic resources is partially dependent on visual air quality, which can be impaired by natural conditions such as rain, snow, or fog, as well as by air pollution. Small pollution particles, predominantly sulfate and organic aerosols, are very efficient at scattering visible light and impairing visibility (Figure 1). About two-thirds of the pollution-related visibility reduction in Vermont is caused by small sulfate particles, which - like the sulfate in our precipitation - result primarily from upwind coal-burning utility sources. Organic and elemental carbon particles from mobile sources, wood stoves, and forest fires also reduce visibility, with their impact especially noticeable on days when sulfate levels are low.

In the late 1980s, UVM economist Alphonse Gilbert conducted a survey-based study of the economic value of visual air quality in Vermont. He concluded that "significant public benefit will be derived from increases in mean visibility, especially efforts directed toward preventing further visibility impairment." He also found that an increase in the frequency of very clear days would increase the frequency and duration of annual scenery-related trips, while an increase in the number of very hazy days would decrease the frequency and duration of trips.

Based on the long-term Burlington Airport record of visual range observations (adjusted to remove effects of fog and precipitation), the frequency of very hazy summer days (visual range less than 10 miles) has decreased since the mid-1970s, although there has been little change during the past decade. This is consistent with a downward trend in upwind sulfur emissions during this period. Unfortunately, the frequency of very clear days has also declined, although there appears to be an improving trend in the 1990s (Figure 2).

 

Using Our Resources Intelligently

While viewing Vermont's hillsides is important for our travel industry, utilizing forest resources in a sustainable manner is of paramount importance to our rural economy.

In Vermont, about 10 percent of the annual wood harvest goes to fuel, with the remaining 90 percent split almost equally between pulpwood and saw logs (Figure 3). We use wood for residential heating, commercial heating and cogeneration, and production of electricity. Two Vermont facilities, the McNeil Generating Plant in Burlington and the Ryegate Power Station, use wood chips to generate power. Twenty-two schools now heat with wood chips, displacing electric heat and reducing their energy costs by a factor of 10. Many businesses reduce fuel costs by using wood chips to displace more expensive fossil fuels, and the number is growing. The state office complexes in Montpelier and Waterbury heat with wood chips.

Wood chips are produced at sawmills and through whole-tree chipping in the forest. Wood chipped at sawmills was once discarded as waste; culling trees in the forest for chipping provides space for more vigorous trees to grow.

While Vermonters enjoy a growing measure of energy security and affordability from wood, two environmental issues have arisen: air quality and the impact of whole-tree chipping. Emissions testing on commercial and industrial combustion units to learn more about the emissions of wood-fired facilities is scheduled for 1997.

To limit the impacts of whole-tree chipping, the Agency's Division of Forests has developed rules requiring harvest plans. Such a plan applies to any harvesting operation for which whole-tree chips will be sold to either of the two wood-fired generating plants. The Department of Fish and Wildlife must approve all plans - to assess potential impacts on wildlife habitats - before harvesting begins. The state's Acceptable Management Practices, which protect surface water quality, apply to these harvests, just as they apply to all other forest harvesting in Vermont.

A coalition of businesses and government agencies in 1996 broke ground on an experimental, large-scale biomass gasification plant in Burlington which may affect global biomass energy development. The unit is expected to provide clean and efficient combustion of several biomass fuels, including wood, sugar cane stalks, and switchgrass.

Water is also an integral component of a vibrant economy. In Vermont, its use is greatest in the production of energy. In-stream hydroelectric use is 17 billion gallons per day, while thermoelectric plants, such as Vermont Yankee, withdraw an estimated 519 million gallons daily. This water serves the present power and energy needs of Vermonters and is critical for future economic growth and an improved standard of living.

Water use is linked directly to Vermont's economic activities in other ways. Our industries use an estimated 44 million gallons per day for cooling, washing, fabrication, and processing, along with lumber and wood production. Agricultural water use, primarily for watering livestock, is approximately 6.6 million gallons per day. Commercial water withdrawals account for about 3.8 million gallons daily; this water is used in office buildings and institutions as well as hotels and restaurants. Public water systems may also serve some thermoelectric, industrial, and commercial needs.

Closer to home, both literally and figuratively, is the water we use for drinking, cooking, and bathing - 55.5 million gallons per day. Keeping our drinking water supplies free of contaminants is an expensive task. For the small town of Wheelock, with a public water system serving 60 people, recent capital improvements totalled almost $300,000. For a relatively large public water source - such as Randolph's, serving 2,500 residents - more than $2 million has been spent on source improvements. These costs escalate if the water is contaminated; remediation required for Williamstown's public water system reached $1.5 million.

For most of us, our single biggest investment, our homes, can be compromised by degraded water. The quality of water may determine where we live or whether we can sell our home and land. Its protection is an investment which, if ignored, can reduce property values and present a possible liability.

 

Savings in the Workplace

That pollution prevention pays has become readily apparent for large and small businesses. At IBM in Essex Junction, the state's largest private employer achieved significant waste reduction and realized annualized cost savings of more than $1.1 million in 1996 with three source reduction projects alone. IBM has been recognized for its efforts with a Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence in Pollution Prevention every year since 1993.

Chroma Technology, a small manufacturer of optical filters, mirrors, and thin film coatings in Brattleboro, modified a production process to use a water-soluble wax. This change eliminated the need for a toxic chemical, created safer working conditions, and will save the company $8,000 annually.

The economic landscape is changing rapidly. Many Vermonters have recognized the influence they can have in the marketplace and they're exercising what they see as their responsibility to purchase "green" alternatives where these are available. The Vermont Business Environmental Partnership, a program for printers and auto garages initiated by the Agency of Natural Resources in 1996, is a voluntary, environmental assistance program designed to recognize Vermont businesses for their efforts to prevent pollution and to improve environmental performance. Participating companies agree to adopt a set of environmentally sound operating practices and to meet standards set for environmental achievement.

Vermonters can support Business Environmental Partners and know that the products or services provided meet rigorous standards for both economic and environmental performance.

Vermont, as a whole, is reusing and recycling more than ever. Between 1989 and 1994 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), the amount of potential municipal solid waste recycled or re-used increased from 19 percent to 35 percent, according to an Agency report released in 1996. With a continued commitment to avoid unnecessary packaging and to keep recyclable materials out of our landfills, the state should realize its goal of a 40 percent diversion rate by 2000. (Figure 4)

 

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