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Saving a Vermont business

I want to share a story with you. It begins in April 2005. It was my first opportunity to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Vermont State Senate. The bill was about limiting mercury exposure in our state; it was a bill I supported. But one senator proposed an amendment that would have closed a long-time Bennington employer, Eveready Energizer, because they made hearing aid batteries that contained mercury. The senator proposed this amendment, she said, to send a message to Energizer. I voted nay the amendment failed and the 180 families of Energizers 180 employees breathed a huge sigh of relief. I visited them in Bennington the next day. Explaining my vote, I said, The senator wanted to send a message to this company. But I have another idea. Lets work with Energizer to discover a new material to use in a hearing aid battery instead of mercury, and well help reduce mercury not just in Vermont, but all over the world. I worked with Energizer in the weeks that followed to link them with researchers at UVM and Norwich. Fast-forward to last week: Oct. 8, 2008, in Bennington, Vermont: Energizer introduced its new zero-mercury hearing aid battery the first and only zero-mercury hearing aid battery in the world. Thats good news for the whole planet. And its two years ahead of the U.S. battery industrys voluntary pledge to eliminate added mercury from button cell batteries by June 30, 2011. I traveled to Bennington last week for the Energizer announcement. When I visited in 2005, two women approached me on the factory floor. Connie touched my arm and said, I have worked in this factory for 38 years, and I want to thank you for voting to save my job. Judy said, I have worked here for 30 years, and I just want to thank you for understanding how important our jobs are here in southern Vermont. When I saw them last week, I thanked Judy and Connie for their work and for being part of the winning Energizer team. The plant on Gage Street in Bennington is the only one in the U.S. making zero-mercury hearing aid batteries. How easily Connies and Judys jobs might have gone offshore, had that amendment passed in 2005, and had Energizer not taken leadership in mercury abatement. On Pleasant Street in Bennington, theres another organization that greeted Energizers announcement with special gratitude. Bennington Project Independence, or BPI, is an adult day care and health rehabilitation service that offers a safe and engaging place for seniors to spend the day. Its a creative, compassionate and cost-effective alternative to traditional nursing home care. BPI is presently raising funds to build an expanded facility. BPIs leaders were on hand last week to accept a generous gift from Energizer: $5,000 worth of zero-mercury hearing aid batteries for the people they serve. As chair of the Governors Commission on Healthy Aging, I know that hearing aids make an enormous difference to seniors not just for quality of life, but for health. Hearing aids extend an older adults ability to communicate with health care providers and caregivers, which has a direct impact on health. Moreover, the ability to communicate is good for a seniors frame of mind and mental health, which depends so much on staying involved and engaged with family, friends and community. Energizer is a Bennington hometown institution that not only furnishes a livelihood for nearly 200 people. It also makes life better for seniors. And they have done something big in Bennington to reduce mercury in the environment the world over. Maybe youve heard me talk about the Green Valley? Well, Energizer is a Green Valley company. Its about building our states economy on green engineering and environmental problem solving. But its also about embracing our challenges with a positive, can-do attitude. Its about saying, yes we can instead of no you cant. Brian Dubie is Vermonts lieutenant governor. E-mail his office a martha.hanson@state.vt.us, or visit www.ltgov.state.vt.us.

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