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Vermont's future: energy and youth

Do you remember when biodiesel production meant college kids collecting French-fry grease and recycling it in the backyard? Well, times have changed. Biodiesel is a low-emission fuel made from vegetable oils, which is usually mixed with conventional diesel fuel. Diesel engines and oil-fired furnaces burn biodiesel blends without modification. I recently toured a new biodiesel production facility in Swanton, Vermont. Biocardel is a Canadian company that chose to locate here. By next fall, they hope to be producing five million gallons of biodiesel per year, made from regionally grown soybeans. Burning biodiesel in your diesel car, truck, bus or home oil burner produces significantly less air pollution and significantly less greenhouse gas. It also strengthens Vermonts rural economy. Last week, I was asked to give the opening remarks to the fourth annual Vermont Biodiesel Workshop, which was hosted jointly by the University of Vermonts Transportation Center and its Clean Cities Coalition, the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association and the Vermont Biofuels Association. At this years workshop, I spoke about the significant growth in biodiesel in Vermont since the first workshop in 2003 at Middlebury College. The number of biodiesel suppliers has gone from just 2 to more than 30. Over $3 million has been invested in biodiesel production and distribution infrastructure and in R&D projects. Biodiesel consumption in Vermont has gone from 5,000 gallons to more than 1.4 million gallons per year, and is projected to grow to 5 million gallons in 2007. Biodiesel in Vermont replaced more than 8,600 barrels of crude oil in 2006, avoided over 3,000 tons of CO2 emissions, and achieved a net reduction in ALL regulated pollutants. Last year, Gov. Douglas proposed a sales tax credit for commercial diesel fleets, and a sales tax credit for residents who purchase biofuel blends. The governor also proposed a purchase tax credit for new hybrids and cars that get 35 mpg or better. 50% of Vermonts greenhouses gases come from automobiles. Using biodiesel can reduce those emissions, strengthen our rural economy and bring us closer to energy independence. Public Service Commissioner David OBrien and I plan to meet with Vermonts biodiesel leaders to insure we have a sound initiative for the upcoming legislative session. The Governor and I intend to reintroduce these initiatives, and to work with the Legislature to enact them. Did you know that China graduates more English speaking engineers monthly than the United States does in a year, and that tens of thousands of jobs are forecast to go offshore not because of wages, but because we lack the technically skilled workforce? One outstanding program that encourages young people to study technology is called US First. US First student-teams design and build robots in a nation-wide competition. Students in Randolph and Hartland are participating in robotics teams today, and I encourage you all to sponsor or participate in a US First Team. I recently meet with the US First, and they are looking to expand in Vermont. I recently heard someone predict a future in which well all go to Wal-Mart to buy plastic cars made in China. I have another vision for our future, so try this one with me. Instead, we are going custom-order our biodegradable, corrosion-proof, composite-built, biodiesel-fueled, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles which are made not in China, but in Vermont. Sound far-fetched? Today we make steering columns in Bennington, and industrial batteries in St. Albans and Bennington. We design and make jet engines blades in Rutland, and design rocket motor fuel tanks and fuel cells in Burlington. We design and fabricate cutting-edge integrated circuits in Essex. We design and build Cg management, thermal management, and fuel management systems for aircraft and space vehicles in Vergennes. We design and build automotive heat shields in St. Johnsbury. We design aircraft structural components in Springfield. In Bennington, we design and build composite components for Corvettes, aircraft, and armored vehicles. We have two major universities, many colleges and a highly educated workforce. In this state, we have access to millions of dollars from foundations and other investment capital just looking to make a difference in the world. We have the marketing genius of Ben and Jerry. We have the Green brand of our Green Valleys and Green Mountains. And we most importantly, we have you. I would like to hear your vision for the future. Please write to me and share your thoughts.

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