Mary Sullivan is one of 22 Vermont delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and one of nine state delegates originally pledged to former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean. She was a 10-year member of the Vermont House of Representatives and chair of its natural resources committee. In the 1980s, she wrote for The Washington Post. Currently, she is communications coordinator at the Burlington Electric Department, part of the Alliance for Climate Action.

Sunday, 25 Jul 2004

BOSTON, Mass.

Rolling through the New England countryside on our almost five-hour bus ride from Burlington, Vt., to Boston, Don Hooper and I had plenty to talk about. As Vermont’s member of the Democratic Party’s Platform Convention a few weeks ago in Miami, Hooper was heavily involved in drafting the environmental portion of the party platform. Traveling through the green landscape, we compared earlier drafts with the final result, and found reason to be pleased.

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Platform writing for major parties tends to avoid specifics. Instead, final wording choices rely on language that appeals to the broadest common denominator. In many respects, the environmental portion of the platform that will be adopted at the convention on Tuesday evening follows those general rules. But the changes that were made from earlier drafts to the final one are cause for hope and celebration.

Hooper, a former legislator who now works at the National Wildlife Federation, told me that when he introduced 18 amendments at the Miami meeting to improve and strengthen the platform language, he received respect and response from the John Kerry campaign. Hooper also checked in with the Dennis Kucinich contingent to see if their suggestions were seriously considered, and learned that they felt the same way Hooper did: People were being heard.

One strongly worded section of the final version of the platform called “Achieving Energy Independence” severely criticizes the Bush administration for letting “oil industry lobbyists and executives write our nation’s energy policy in secret.” It also attacks the “president’s approach to energy policy [which] leaves America shackled to foreign oil, dependent, vulnerable, and exposed.”

On the positive side, the energy portion of the platform asserts the imperative to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. It states: “Our plan begins with commonsense investments to harness the natural world around us — the sun, wind, water, geothermal, and biomass sources, and a rich array of crops — to create a new generation of affordable energy for the 21st century.”

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Considering the meager tax credits for renewables made available during the Bush years, it was also heartening to find a statement in the final Democratic draft that strongly supports tax credits for private-sector investment in clean, renewable energy sources.

Under the section “Protecting Our Environment,” the platform condemns the current president for his policy on clean air: “Even though 133 million Americans already live with unhealthy air, the Bush administration bowed to energy-industry lobbying and rewrote rules to allow 20,000 facilities to spew more smog, soot, and mercury into the air.”

The finalized platform also censures President Bush for his global warming policies: “Even though overwhelming scientific evidence shows that global climate change is a scientific fact, this administration has rewritten government reports to hide that fact.” In contrast, the Democrats recognize that “[c]limate change is a major international challenge that requires global leadership from the United States, not abdication.” Likewise, the platform proposes that America take a leadership role in the international arena on such issues as hazardous waste emissions and depleted fisheries.

Ultimately, the delegates to the convention will adopt a platform that greens may wish were a bit stronger. But the final document is a platform that lots of people can stand behind.

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Hooper told me that he felt especially encouraged by the platform-drafting process and the changes that were made during it. “This is [an environmental platform] that will help elect Kerry,” Hooper said. Considering that Kerry has an exemplary environmental voting record, according to the League of Conservation Voters, and that he has taken a leadership role on many environmental issues, it is this delegate’s view that Kerry — for the sake of our planet — needs to be elected.

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This piece reflects the opinion of its author and should not be taken to constitute an official endorsement by Grist Magazine, its staff, its board members, their massage therapists, or their personal trainers.

Obama Mia!

Tuesday, 27 Jul 2004

BOSTON, Mass.

The environment might not be getting the speech time, or media attention, that the economy, foreign policy, and health care are getting at the Democratic National Convention. But as a delegate taking it all in, I can assure you that it is an ever-present topic both inside the convention and around Boston at the many rallies, forums, and workshops happening throughout convention week.

This convention has been touted as the most environmentally friendly one ever by both DNC insiders and environmental groups, and there are indications and reminders of that everywhere. This morning at breakfast, delegates received lovely keepsake posters, made from the recycled wastepaper collected at the convention Monday evening. More important, total carbon emissions generated by the convention, including the transportation emissions from delegate travel to Boston and back, are being offset by the DNC’s use of wind energy. Also, the building materials used to construct the stage and other structures will all be reused after the convention.

Many hotels are practicing green standards, including the Back Bay Hilton, where I’m staying. These hotels are doing their part by not changing towels and sheets every day. Still, I wish they would take bigger steps toward sustainability, especially by turning down the arctic blasts from conference-room air conditioners. It seems that keeping men in long-sleeved shirts and suit jackets comfortable is — unfortunately — still the norm.

But seriously, environmental groups have noticed the DNC’s commitment to the environment. “It is great to see the Democratic National Convention planners showcasing environmental solutions by incorporating simple measures that can protect the Earth and provide a quality convention experience,” said Bruce Hamilton, national conservation director for the Sierra Club.

Tuesday’s convention schedule was filled with environmental events — so many that you sometimes had to pick and choose between overlapping activities. Many delegates joined the League of Conservation Voters at a rally for the environment. And what a great rally it was! People heard terrific speaker after terrific speaker as a light wind blew off Boston Harbor.

Most inspiring was Barack Obama, 2004 Democratic candidate to the U.S. Senate from Illinois. While TV watchers know he made a powerful keynote address on Tuesday evening, those of us at the rally were treated to an equally powerful speech by Obama that focused solely on the environment. He spoke touchingly of his six-year-old daughter’s asthma, and about being lucky enough to be in a position to provide for her medical needs. He reminded us that environmental degradation has a disproportionately negative impact on low-income and minority people. Keep your eye on Obama. His first introduction to Democrats at the national level was greeted with enthusiasm that cannot be described. Despite having a name that doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, he’s being talked about here as a future presidential candidate.

Also speaking at the rally was Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, a longtime champion of the environment who received a rousing ovation for all his work. He said that he was taught that while this is our world, we are borrowing it from future generations. “There was a day,” he sadly added, “when issues of environment and conservation were bipartisan.” This bipartisanship is absent today, he reminded us, because President Bush and many House and Senate Republicans have taken every possible opportunity to put the interest of energy companies above the interest of the American people. Dingell especially focused on Bush’s deplorable record on the Endangered Species Act.

Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters, would have brought the crowd to its feet had we not already been standing by starting the chant, “Four More Months! Four More Months!” As Callahan quipped of the Bush administration, “Some things were never meant to be recycled!”

Callahan told us that the LCV’s Environmental Victory Project will have volunteers knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors in swing states to help get the word out about the current administration’s appalling record, while encouraging people to go to the polls in November to ensure a Kerry-Edwards victory. LCV provided Kerry with the earliest endorsement ever. Callahan reminded the crowd of Kerry’s stellar environmental voting record during his long tenure in the U.S. Senate.

Following this rally, many delegates and other interested folks joined the “Wind and Waves” cruise of Boston Harbor, with its focus on renewable energy. The boat cruised around the harbor and headed down to Hull Island, which has a 660-kilowatt wind turbine that juts above the harbor. I thought it looked quite elegant as the big white blades rotated against a bright blue sky. The turbine, erected a few years ago, powers Boston Light. In addition to the lighthouse, it also runs the street and traffic lights of Hull and is the first commercial-grade wind turbine in eastern Massachusetts. Lots of wind proponents chatted, exchanged business cards, and shared notes about the obstacles encountered in moving away from fossil fuels and the difficulties in siting wind turbines.

The next few days of the DNC promise many more events with an environmental focus and flavor. Many delegates here are feeling a rising hope that a Kerry-Edwards ticket will indeed be elected, and that there may still be time to turn the tide of destruction that has battered the environment over the last four years.

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This piece reflects the opinion of its author and should not be taken to constitute an official endorsement by Grist Magazine, its staff, its board members, their massage therapists, or their personal trainers.

Back to the Clean Energy Future

Thursday, 29 Jul 2004

BOSTON, Mass.

Start talking about energy topics such as “clean coal” and “carbon sequestration,” and environmentalists — including myself — justifiably get nervous. Still, that was one of the many solutions highlighted yesterday afternoon at a filled-to-capacity convention forum focusing on energy for our future.

As we gathered on the 33rd floor of 60 State St., amid the fossil-fuel-fed whine of conference-room air conditioners, we could look out the windows, far below, to see Faneuil Hall, scene of the start of the first American Revolution. Then the forum’s moderator, Steve Curwood of National Public Radio’s “Living on Earth,” drew our attention to the podium and to the important business at hand: our need to “bring Yankee ingenuity to the second American Revolution,” and the declaration of American energy independence.

Each presenter asserted the urgent need to move away from foreign oil, and to start the move toward total energy independence. Each also felt that such a move coming now would not harm the economy, as the current administration claims, but rather has the likely potential of promoting economic development, creating high-paying manufacturing jobs, and improving environmental quality with renewable energy and new technology, while achieving a secure and clean energy future.

Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington state said it most succinctly: “Let’s free ourselves from foreign oil!” But clearly there were divergent views in the room on how to go about doing that.

Wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal were all discussed seriously, but so was coal. Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a dynamic and charming speaker who can easily captivate a crowd, said, “If we develop clean-coal technology, we have enough coal in the United States to provide energy for a century. The possibilities are endless.” A scary thought indeed, and one with dim prospects.

As I listened to Rendell’s praise for this very dirty fossil fuel, I felt reservations about the largely untested technologies that might one day significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning plants. At the very least, I thought, we should only be using the term “cleaner coal,” but absolutely never referring to it as “clean coal.” We have a long, long way to travel before that phrase stops being an oxymoron.

A presentation about the Apollo Project also proclaimed hope for our energy future. The idea is to prevent the chaos of climate change through a crash program to transform our energy economy. Apollo would spend $300 billion over a 10-year period and create a million new jobs in renewable energy, and it promises a reduction in — even an elimination of — foreign oil dependence, while cutting CO2 emissions sharply.

While Apollo had many supporters at the conference, it also has its detractors who weren’t at the podium. In my luggage, and on my short list of reading material during the DNC, was Ross Gelbspan’s just-released book, Boiling Point. [Editor’s note: Read an excerpt from the book.] He writes: “Because of the delicate nature of forging an alliance between environmentalists and labor unions [a primary tenet of the program], the developers of the Apollo Project have chosen to promote the single largest contributor to global warming — our burning of coal.” Gelbspan, like so many environmentalists, considers it reckless to pin our hopes of curbing global warming on an ability to sequester carbon underground or in the oceans with the “silver bullet” of an as yet undeveloped and unproven technology.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois pointed to more practical and immediate energy solutions. The auto industry, he said, is a place where change is needed, change that could come right now — and not through a questionable new technology. He believes that government must help move the auto industry in the right direction. He lamented that CAFE standards, which provided so much hope under the Carter administration a quarter century ago, have not just stayed flat, but are actually going in the wrong direction. The good news from the auto industry, he noted, was the increased sales of hybrids, going from just 43,000 vehicles in 2003 to an estimated 100,000 this year. And within a few years, he added, there may be 500,000 hybrid vehicles sold annually. Still, this doesn’t measure up as a great deal of progress when U.S. new auto sales annually are counted in the millions of cars — most of them sport utility vehicles.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state discussed federal investment in energy efficiency and what it might accomplish. She talked of the huge savings that could be gained through efficiency and improvements in the national grid.

Ultimately, at forum’s end, we came to no conclusions and agreed on no solutions. But what felt most promising about the event is that more than 600 people took time away from a variety of other DNC activities to spend a few hours discussing the possibilities of what our energy future might look like.

There were strong and well-known environmentalists in the room; there was representation from labor; several business executives; and, of course, many members of the Democratic Party. All were fully engaged in the discussion, and all at least seemed to agree on one thing: the urgency of the matter. The quicker we move away from our addictive dependency on foreign oil, the safer, and better off, we will be as a nation.

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This piece reflects the opinion of its author and should not be taken to constitute an official endorsement by Grist Magazine, its staff, its board members, their massage therapists, or their personal trainers.

Conventional Wisdom

Saturday, 31 Jul 2004

BURLINGTON, Vt.

As the Bush administration continues to treat the environment as Public Enemy No. 1 — as it weakens environmental standards that once protected our air, water, and health; endangers our wildlands and wildlife; and even threatens the future of the world through criminal neglect of climate change — I’ve often wondered if I am crazy to hold onto even an ounce of optimism. And I have shuddered at what four more such years might bring.

That’s why, as I traveled home by bus from the Democratic convention — rolling across our beautiful state with its glorious mountains, forests, and rivers — I took a solemn vow to do everything within my power to see that John Kerry is elected president.

I am determined to see that George W. Bush and his cronies never again have anything to do with American public policy — domestic or foreign. And I am determined to see a triumphant Kerry administration sweep clean the abuses of the past four years. I want to see the Bush administration go down in history not as a new direction for America, but as an aberration.

The Vermont delegation, as you may have guessed, was devoted to Howard Dean’s campaign. I co-chaired Environmentalists for Dean, while several others in our delegation held key roles in his campaign. We worked tirelessly to see that Dean at least won the Vermont primary, and he did. But last Wednesday evening, when the time came, our state cast all of its 22 votes for John Kerry. We understood in our hearts what is at stake, and we spoke with one voice.

Throughout convention week, we were reminded of what is at risk. At a Thursday afternoon environmental rally, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told us about his three children with asthma. In a passionate speech to the packed hall, he asked why the national asthma rate has shot up. He asked what it is that we are putting into our environment that is causing this unhealthy spike. And then he pointed a finger at George Bush, and accused him of doing nothing to address this new epidemic among our nation’s children.

Kennedy went further. He paraphrased author Upton Sinclair who once asserted that those people who enter government to expand their own self-interest are committing a form of treason. The connections that Bush appointees have to special corporate interests — and not to the people of this country — is downright horrifying, Kennedy said.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer also spoke at the rally. He related how Bush and the GOP had trumpeted states’ rights as a means of abrogating the federal role in environmental regulation, and pushing that role on the budget-strapped states. But, he told us, that strategy has backfired. The administration wasn’t expecting Spitzer and other states’ attorneys general to take the president at his word.

“Boy, have we had fun!” Spitzer said. The New York AG has led the fight to bring lawsuits against utilities and other businesses that are spewing sulfur dioxide, particulates, mercury, greenhouse gases, and other harmful emissions into the atmosphere. “They invoke states’ rights as a way of appeasing their friends in industry. Well, they’ve let a genie out of the bottle,” he asserted, “and they’re going to live to regret it.”

Spitzer reminded the crowd that a total victory is needed to end federal abuses — with the Democrats taking back both the White House and Congress. “If we don’t win back Congress, it will pass amendments that are anti-environment. We must win in November. The environment argument can win the election this November,” he declared.

Actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner told the rally that he has two passions in life — the environment and children — passions also held by most other Americans. “I believe we are going to win by a lot bigger than people think,” he asserted to uproarious applause. Reiner thanked George Bush for uniting us. It is true, he said, that what started out to be an “anybody but Bush” crowd is now fast becoming a solid Kerry crowd.

From the environmental rally we moved on to the biggest event of the convention. When John Kerry stepped to the podium Thursday evening and accepted the Democratic Party nomination, he gave the speech of his life. His address demonstrated confidence, wisdom, and ability. He told us clearly why George Bush needs to be sent packing. But more importantly, he lifted the hearts and instilled hope and optimism in everyone inside the convention hall — and I hope millions of TV viewers.

As a delegate, exhausted after four grueling days and nights spent in meetings, rallies, and political conversation, I was so completely exhilarated by Kerry’s words and his presentation that my fatigue vanished.

Back home on Friday, I called a friend to find out how her cancer surgery had gone. But she was not thinking of her surgery; she was thinking of how best to defeat George Bush. Likewise, many diehard Republicans I know have said they will not vote for the incumbent. And likewise, many people who previously did not participate in elections are becoming involved. We’ve all realized just how high the stakes are this time around.

“We need to be optimistic,” said Colorado Rep. Mark Udall at Thursday’s rally. And optimistic I am. At the convention I felt something wonderful happen. A feeling arose among us. We began to dare to hope not just for a victory, but a really big victory that will wipe away the Bush administration and its abuses — that will demonstrate just how much Americans care about their environment, their children, and the future.

Let’s hope for a big celebration on Nov. 2, when we take our country back.

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This piece reflects the opinion of its author and should not be taken to constitute an official endorsement by Grist Magazine, its staff, its board members, their massage therapists, or their personal trainers.