Two environmental groups forge new alliance
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | October 10,2013
MONTPELIER — The Vermont Natural Resources Council announced Wednesday it has joined forces with Vermont Conservation Voters in a bid to better influence environmental policy and politics.
VNRC Executive Director Brian Shupe said the two groups have discussed an alliance for the past year. They have agreed on a framework in which both will remain separate entities but share resources.
Both groups were seeking to increase their outreach, effectiveness and influence, Shupe said at a Statehouse press conference.
“We concluded that the best way to do that is to join forces in a way that builds on the respective strengths of both organizations and enter into a partnership,” he said.
Vermont Conservation Voters, formerly known as the League of Conservation Voters, will move into the VNRC office in Montpelier. Resources, including equipment and administrative services, will be shared.
Shupe, who will also serve as executive director of VCV, said the two organizations have begun reshaping their respective boards to include overlapping memberships.
“We hope to increase that overlap in the future to the extent that it’s allowed under state and federal law in order to have better coordination between the two boards,” Shupe said.
VCV was founded in the early 1980s and has operated as two entities. It includes a political wing registered with the Internal Revenue Services, as well as a nonprofit function that is registered as a tax-exempt 501c3 group with the IRS.
Shupe said VCV’s education fund, part of its nonprofit activities, has been dissolved and about $45,000 in assets has been transferred to VNRC, which focuses primarily on advocacy and policy work.
“We will have that somewhat of a sister organization relationship that the VCV ed fund used to have with the league,” Shupe said.
VCV has served as “the political arm of Vermont’s environmental movement and community,” according to Shupe. He said the group will soon hire a political director to work in the Statehouse and influence political campaigns on environmental issues.
Part of the goal in forming the alliance is to “move those issues from the fringes of the political debate to the center of the debate,” Shupe said.
Stark Biddle, chairman of VCV’s Board of Directors, said both organizations are gaining from the partnership.
“What VNRC offers to us is a competence and an analytical depth that we lack. What we offer to them is some political muscle,” he said. “That combination is a very powerful, we believe, combination.”
Several environmental challenges are expected in the coming years, Shupe said, including rising energy costs and the need to weatherize Vermont homes. Climate change is also leading to higher public safety costs because of severe storms, he said.
A slow economic recovery and budget challenges have dominated the discussion in the Statehouse, distracting lawmakers from other issues, including environmental protections, Shupe said.
“The last few years have been very challenging in the state from a budget standpoint and an economic standpoint,” he said. “I think there’s been a tendency to deal with short-term economic crisis and not a little bit more of a long-term environmental crisis.”
The partnership between VNRC and VCV will help environmental advocates push for a greater impact on environmental policy, according to Shupe.
“We’ve made some progress and we continue to make progress,” he said. “But a lot of our legacy as a leader in environmental protection is somewhat outdated. A lot of our laws were developed during a time when we didn’t face the contemporary threats to the environment that we face today.”