- Sky Guy: Dick Valentinetti ’63 works to keep Vermont’s skies pollutant-free.
Air quality is never a stagnant issue. “Quality of life remains a big factor in Vermont ethics, in what Vermont is all about,” says Dick Valentinetti ’63. He proudly reflects that the Green Mountain State has a long tradition of outspoken environmental values that traces back to the 1970s.
Valentinetti translates this through his 17 years of experience as director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD). Part of his responsibility is to oversee all air-quality programs, monitor pollutants, issue permits, and ensure that businesses relocating to Vermont use up-to-date pollution-control equipment. He works with a staff of about 35, many recognized nationally in their respective fields.
Valentinetti jokes that he became interested in the environment because
he “couldn’t pass two years of Italian at the university.” In fact
it was the exposure to a variety of disciplines at UMass Amherst that
eventually led him to earn a degree in environmental health. “I enjoyed
the micro part of it, and the fact that you needed to deal a lot with
the public,” he says. However, Valentinetti also notes, “chance certainly
determines much of one’s life.”
Attributing his career path to fortuitousness is how he deflects the
spotlight from his own notable achievement. But whether it was luck,
skill, or a conflux of both, Valentinetti leads an agency with a mission
that extends far beyond the implementation of clean-air legislation.
For years he and his colleagues have been at the forefront of creating
“The Northeast has always been a laboratory of innovation to try techniques
that can be adopted nationally, to create national policy,” explains
Valentinetti. These techniques include providing the public with real-time
data from the five air-pollutant monitoring stations across the state,
then posting results on the agency Web site. “If people have issues
with air quality in an area, they can see that data in real time,”
he says, noting there are safeguards to edit out anomalies.
When pressed, Vermont’s top air-quality expert admits the issue that
keeps him up at night is global climate change. It also keeps him busy
during the day: Valentinetti is involved with the nine-state Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). In an effort to address the impact
climate change could have on our ecosystem, the initiative finds ways
to diminish carbon-dioxide emissions.
Valentinetti worries about how climate change will affect his grandchildren
and future generations but says he is optimistic. “A lot of changes
that have occurred over the years started in grammar schools. It seems
the way to educate the American public is through our kids.” While
he recognizes that younger generations are increasingly conscientious
about climate change, Valentinetti also knows that the environment
isn’t yet a political priority.
“I collect political memorabilia, including buttons from early campaigns,”
says Valentinetti. “They tell a history of the time and of social issues,
like the fact that at one time the temperance movement was so strong.”
These artifacts demonstrate to him that public demand creates public
policy. Given how important the environment has become in light of
climate change, the new Congress may bring the environment back into
focus, he says. “It’s an exciting time in environmental issues.”