Monday, August 4, 2014

The Clean Power Plan and some Deeper Thoughts

This blog post is going to diverge a little from my normal stories of ski racing and training but I wanted to share an opportunity I was able to pursue in my spare time between workouts.  This spring, myself and other local Olympians (Hannah, Liz, and Susan) were able to connect with local VT environmental groups to raise awareness for climate change.  We have kept in touch since that event and I was recently asked to submit a personal testimony for a hearing on the U.S. Environmental Protection Association's (EPA) Clean Power Plan which is currently under consideration as part of the Clean Air Act.  This plan strives to cut carbon pollution through targeting regulations on power plant emissions and advocating for cleaner energy sources. Of course this plan is a heated issue and I was excited for the opportunity to join the debate.   I would have liked to attend the hearing in person, which was held in Washington D.C last week, but training demands forced me to write a testimony which was read on my behalf.  I was honored to join the ranks of US Senators and Representatives as well as experts from many organizations including the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Foundation, the American Lung Association, the Clean Air Task Force, the American Petroleum Institute, among others, to share my support for this plan.  You can read my testimony at the end of this blog or continue reading to learn more about the EPA's Clean Power Plan.

A beautiful painting of the windmills on the Lowell Mountain Range painted by Hannah Dreissigacker

I previously knew that carbon emissions from our power plants were not strictly regulated but I was shocked to discover that the US does not currently have any limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. This is even more incredulous considering the fact that about 40% of total carbon emissions come from power plants, especially coal burning plants.  The Clean Power Plan sets a standard for the first time ever to limit carbon pollution from our existing power plants.  The stated goal is that by 2030 carbon pollution will be reduced by 30% from the levels set in 2005.  This decrease will occur through the investment in clean renewable energy as well as work in increasing energy efficiency.  The Clean Power Plan is designed to give some control to the individual states, allowing them to find the best solutions for their needs.  A recent study out of Yale University showed that Americans strongly support strict limits on CO2 pollution from power plants by a ratio of almost 2 to 1.  Hopefully this plan will be the catalyst for the change that the majority of  Americans support..

Our potential for growth and advancement with renewable energy is vast.  One energy which hits close to home for me since we now have two wind farms in the Northeast Kingdom, is wind power.  Wind generation increased by 40% in the US from 2011 to 2013. The US Department of energy predicts that with continued wind innovation and advancement, 20% of our nation's electricity demand could be met by wind technology by 2030. Wind power currently has the capacity to generate the equivalent energy as 60 large nuclear reactors but it's potential is much larger.  The ground and off-shore potential of this renewable resource is actually over 10 times that amount of of our nation's current electric consumption!  We have barely tapped into this energy source.  I hope other communities around the country will follow the big lead made by the small communities like Lowell and Sheffield, VT and push for increased wind production in the United States.

Solar is another energy source with potential for growth.  Rooftop solar panels in 2012 cost only 1% of what they did 35 years ago but there is still room to further decrease these costs.  Solar cost are still over 5 times higher in the US than in Germany, the nation which leads the world in photovoltaic installation.  During our winter race season we often drive across Germany, travelling between competitions in the Alps and Eastern Europe.  I am always amazed to see a solar panel on every single rooftop as we pass through, even though the weather is often grey and rainy.  The German government has set a goal to produce 100% of its electricity from the sun by 2050 and they are already taking huge strides in this direction.  As the United States aims to reduce pollution from our existing power plants, solar energy can be a cleaner replacement for our energy needs.
Solar panels at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center

Looking out over the Northeast Kingdom, my home and a place I hope we can protect for future generations to enjoy

Here is my testimony which was read last week in Washington:

Testimony submitted to:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602)

In support of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Rule
Submitted by Ida Sargent, 2014 Winter Olympian

Thank you for the opportunity to submit formal testimony regarding EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. My name is Ida Sargent and I am writing today from Craftsbury, VT  to express my strong support for the  EPA’s historic action to combat climate change by setting limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

I grew up in northern VT in a rural area and learned to ski as soon as I could walk.  From the first snow in the late fall until the snow melt late March, I would strap on my skis and ski from my front door, gliding across the snow, exploring the local fields and woods.  I soon became passionate about skiing and used the sport to develop a love of the local landscape as well as an appreciation of a healthy lifestyle.  I have followed this passion to the highest level, representing the United States of America last February at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Competing in the Olympics for Team USA was a dream come true but also part of a long journey and countless hours of hard work.  Along the way, I have seen many changes to our winters and thus the sport that I love.   Every winter the first snowfall happens a little later and the January thaw lasts a little longer.  At home in Vermont, ski areas are becoming forced to expand their snowmaking capacity in order to keep up with the warming climate.  Not only does this create a financial burden for one of the state’s largest industries but also pulls from the joy of being able to actually cross country ski across pristine landscapes which make up the Green Mountains.  This is not just an isolated problem for Vermont or our country.  Last year on the international racing circuit, I competed for the US Ski Team in World Cup and Olympic races in eleven countries and raced on manmade snow in every single one of them.  Lack of snow caused race courses to be shortened to small loops of artificial snow which only perpetuates the problem. 

It’s summer time now but I’m still ski training, with my eyes set on the 2018 Olympics and hopefully snowy winters ahead.  I just finished an afternoon run around on the roads of my town of Craftsbury, VT.  As I ascended the higher hills, I had wonderful views of a wind farm on a neighboring ridge.  I’m proud to be from a community which values Clean Power and look forward to seeing more of these renewable resources across our nation.  The U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a major step this direction. Through targeting carbon pollution, this plan will protect our winters by promoting a future in which we invest in sources of clean energy and less in fuels that pollute our global climate. Placing a direct target on carbon pollution can allow us to reach our potential of utilizing renewable sources like wind and solar and force us all to reduce our energy demand through energy efficiency. 

I have witnessed the changing winters and effects extreme weather fueled by climate change both in my local communities of Vermont and across the globe and I applaud the EPA for taking much needed steps to reverse the course we are on.   Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and I look forward to seeing the change which the Clean Power Plan will spark.  I hope to continue to ski across snowy landscapes in Vermont for many winters come and to share my passion of the sport with future generations. 
                                                                                                                              Ida Sargent

                                                                                                                              2014 Winter Olympian

Learning to ski, right out the front door

Here are some additional links and resources.  Thanks for reading!


  1. I think it's awesome that you take time to do this.

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