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Did Burlington Miss Out on Its Share of a $650 Million Investment in Carbon War Room? 

Did Burlington just miss out on a slice of $650 million in commercial investment? A recent New York Times story makes you wonder.

Lockheed Martin announced last week that it is partnering with Barclay's bank to help lead a $650 million investment to make commercial buildings more energy efficient in Miami and Sacramento. The investment is a result of Lockheed's role in the Carbon War Room, an international effort that brought Lockheed to Burlington in late 2010.

"It is the most ambitious effort yet to jump-start a national market for energy upgrades that many people believe could eventually be worth billions." crowed the New York Times.

The news of Lockheed's largesse comes just weeks after the weapons maker backed out of an agreement with the city of Burlington thanks, in part, to a lengthy and emotional debate over whether the progressive-minded Queen City should get into bed with one of the world's largest weapons makers.

Could Burlington have been right there alongside Sacramento and Miami in reaping some of this investment in helping to develop model energy efficient buildings?

Mayor Bob Kiss (pictured) said it's unlikely Burlington would have been part of that specific investment deal, but he said the deal is an example of the resources and expertise that Carbon War Room hopes to bring to bear in the marketplace.

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"That's the kind of power that the Carbon War Room is trying to build," said Kiss. "This is an opportunity to use private money to get public results. The whole agreement with Lockheed Martin was more open-ended and we were talking about things we could work on here that would be more transferable in larger markets."

For example, Kiss said there was some interest in working with Lockheed Martin on Burlington's homeowner-based energy district to make it easier for homeowners to engineer and finance energy-efficiency improvements to their homes. That kind of market-based infusion of capital could help jump start the marketplace, Kiss said.

That's why Kiss said he vetoed a "community standards" resolution on climate change partnerships with corporations that was recently approved by the City Council. He claims it was too restrictive in its application and could have scared off worthy partners. The resolution would have put in place some baseline standards regarding corporate partnerships and allowed a community review of such proposals.

Kiss said he is hopeful Burlington can still lure investment from other corporate players in the Carbon War Room, but believes the community standards were too narrowly tailored and would leave policymakers little wiggle room to negotiate with other corporations.

"That said, when we announced the partnership with Lockheed, I never said to anyone to suspend judgment," said Kiss. "But I think we need to think more broadly about how we address climate change and we need everyone to take part in the solution."

In April 2010, Burlington was chosen as one of 15 cities from around the world to take part in a 30-month challenge to develop new, market-driven solutions to combat climate change. The Carbon War Room, a non-profit organization, was founded by Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson. The thrust of the effort is to connect private investment and entrepreneurs with environmental projects — and governmental partners — to build a new economy based on green development that benefits the environment and investors' bottom line.

No dollar figure was attached to the potential Burlington-Lockheed deal.

Shortly after Kiss announced the deal with Lockheed Martin in December 2010, some members of the community — many in Kiss' own Progressive Party — balked at the notion of working with a giant weapons maker.

Jonathan Leavitt, one of the community organizers who opposed the Lockheed deal and rallied people to council meetings, was non-plussed about the Lockheed investment. He thinks Kiss, and the city, need to forge ahead and seek out more responsible partners and simply push for better state, local and federal legislation.

"None of Mayor Kiss' many constituents who have spoken in city council over the last nine months think a tiny, little sliver of Lockheed's slightly laundered U.S. taxpayer dollars will be more effective than the comprehensive state and federal climate legislation which Lockheed helps block," said Leavitt. "Sadly Mayor Kiss' obstructionist tactics prioritize creating a cozy home to 'greenwash' corporate mega-polluters instead of thoughtful climate legislation, responsive government and representing the Burlington voters who put him in power."

City Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3), one of the original sponsors of the community standards legislation, said the Lockheed deal with Miami and Sacramento doesn't sway her opinion. Yet, she remains hopeful that the city can find a better partner than Lockheed Martin to achieve the goals of the Carbon War Room.

With community standards, Mulvaney-Stanak says the city could objectively review any potential partner and decide whether the benefits to Burlington outweigh anything the partner has done to "contribute to the war machine, national debt and destruction of the environment.

"I think we need a framework to have that discussion and that was lost in the defeat of the community standards resolution," Mulvaney-Stanak says.

* This post was updated to correct the ward that Emma Mulvaney-Stanak represents. She represents Ward 3.

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Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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