In recent years the Lintilhac Foundation has developed an increasingly strong interest in advocacy, particularly on issues of energy and the environment, and works closely with one of the state’s most successful watchdog organizations, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). VPIRG’s mission is to “promote and protect the health of Vermont’s environment, people, and locally-based economy.” Its small but aggressive staff in Montpelier works to achieve its goals through public awareness campaigns, lobbying state government, publishing reports, and energizing communities and individuals to participate in the democratic process. VPIRG was founded to be and is a protector and voice for the public; its long list of victories since 1972 include anti-pollution measures, resisting the expansion of the nuclear power industry, campaign finance reform, and increasing access to health care for Vermonters.
Several of VPIRG’s flagship causes are of deep significance to Crea for both humanitarian and scientific reasons. One prominent example is a proposal to expand the storage of radioactive waste by the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. In 2005 Crea worked with VPIRG to oppose this proposal by testifying at statehouse hearings, attending committee meetings, and contributing to the opinion pages of The Burlington Free Press. Crea’s empirical conviction that there cannot be “safe” storage of nuclear waste is rooted in her years as an oceanographer when she was on a team researching a Department of Energy proposal to store nuclear waste beneath the seabed of the Pacific Ocean. The study proved the theory untenable, and the experience helped shape Crea’s view, shared and advanced by VPIRG, that proactive engagement is necessary to address threats to the environment with such serious consequences for society-at-large. “The cost of pollution-based prosperity is getting loaded onto the backs of future generations,” says Crea. “I consider myself a free-market capitalist, but the economy needs to be more in tune with the ecosystem.”
VPIRG’s work on legislation to promote Renewable Energy sources in Vermont inspired Crea to become more involved, and she began attending meetings of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Says Paul Burns, Executive Director of VPIRG, “There were times we couldn’t always have someone in committee. She was a fixed presence there, our eyes and ears.” VPIRG’s efforts on Renewable Energy resulted in new legislation requiring utilities to meet elevated targets for electricity generated from renewable resources, and new incentives for utilities to invest in alternatives such as wind turbines and hydroelectric upgrades.
Whether the issue is energy, safeguarding the future of agriculture in Vermont, or keeping the state’s air and water free of pollutants, VPIRG and the Lintilhac Foundation have values and priorities in common. And for the Lintilhacs, the successful grassroots methods of VPIRG demonstrate the great potential of individuals to participate in the political process, and to play a hand in their own destiny.
“Citizen activism is so critical in a democracy,” says Crea. “In order to have a balance of power you must have groups like VPIRG that confront inequality. The only thing standing between citizens and the interests of business and government are these organizations.”