Vermont winter Olympians call for action on climate change


The Vermont's Olympic cross-country ski racers started skiing as children, they could set out from their doorsteps. Now, they say, the snow is disappearing, and their professional careers are threatened by climate change.

Olympic Winter Games athletes Hannah Dreissigacker, Liz Stephen, Ida Sargent and Susan Dunklee called for action on climate change on Monday at Morse Farm Ski Center in East Montpelier.

"We need to put a price on carbon emissions," biathlete Hannah Dreissigacker said.

The 27-year-old Morrisville native, who often flies around the world to race and visit friends and family, said even her own carbon-intensive lifestyle is disguised by the low cost of fossil fuels, which doesn't reflect the larger cost to the environment, she said.

"When we burn fuel, we're paying for the fuel and we're not paying for all the damage that that fuel does," she said. "The idea of putting a price on carbon is that suddenly we're paying for what that fuel should actually cost."

A carbon tax is among the policy options the Department of Public Service highlighted in its most recent draft Total Energy Study.

The ski racers were alarmed by the worsening snow conditions at many of Europe's most popular World Cup venues this year.

Nordic skier Stephen, 27, is a two-time Olympian from East Montpelier. She said the majority of her races this year were on narrow man-made tracks of slushy snow colored brown with rocks and dirt.

Ida Sargent, 26, got her start in Nordic ski racing in Barton.

"I could just go outside and ski from my door," Sargent said. "And that sport is changing now. And it's very visible both here in Vermont and in Europe."

The warm winter season last year forced her and her teammates to race laps on short man-made snow tracks one mile in length.

She said Vermont should model Europe's action on carbon emissions: smaller cars, public transportation, and rooftop solar, for example.

She supports Vermont's move toward industrial renewable power, such as the Kingdom Community Wind Project in Lowell, a project that has stirred an emotional debate on the state's energy future.

"I think that this is a huge step forward for Vermont," she said. "And I'm actually proud to live so close to both of those, and I hope that other areas in Vermont and New England will also continue this movement."

Biathlete Susan Dunklee, 28, earned the nation's top Olympic sprint finish for women this year. She grew up near Crystal Lake in Barton, which she described as "wild and rugged."

But now she is worried the Montreal-Portland Pipeline, which brings crude oil from South Portland, Maine, to Montreal, could be reversed to bring heavy Canadian crude oil.

"But that aside -- even if we were not to have a leak, the old pipeline worked out fine -- the fact is, we're enabling a system that's depending on fossil fuels," she said. "We need to be finding more creative solutions."


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