MONTPELIER — Activists urged lawmakers Thursday to support a Green New Deal for Vermont as a way to fund immediate steps to address climate change.
There is concern this week that some lawmakers said the bill, S.311, was submitted too late to make it past crossover of bills between the Senate and House. Lawmakers said there were other initiatives to address climate change and Republican Gov. Phil Scott is likely to veto any legislation that raises taxes or might hurt businesses.
The bill proposed last month by Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D Washington, would raise $30 million a year from the state’s top 5% of earners over five years. Pollina said about 16,000 wealthy Vermonters earning between $200,000 and $500,000 saved about $237 million a year because of recent federal tax cuts, or an average of $33,000 a year each. Under Pollina’s bill, they would contribute about $3,000 a year, or 10% of their tax cuts, to Vermont’s Green New Deal.
Pollina said the funds could be used for home weatherization and renewable energy programs, as well as encourage the use of electric vehicles and improve public transportation.
At a packed news conference in the Cedar Creek Room on Thursday, half a dozen activists and supporters of S.311 represented the climate and youth lobbies, agriculture, the labor movement and top lawmakers supporting S.311.
Climate activist Jaiel Pulskamp, co-director of 350 Vermont, said she applauded lawmakers for approving the Global Warming Solutions Act last week, which would mandate state reductions in carbon emissions targets.
She called for a public hearing on S.311 by the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee and for lawmakers to pass it.
“This is the most ambitious and important climate legislation to date,” she said. “350 Vermont and our allies support this legislation because it creates a funding source that supports immediate solutions to address the climate crises.”
Pulskamp noted that Renewable Energy Vermont recently reported the number of solar industry jobs had fallen by a third in recent years. She said S.311 could help boost employment in the industry and attract and retain workers to the state.
Pulskamp also urged passage of S.267 that proposes significant increases in renewable energy generation, as well as H.175 which would end the use of eminent domain to seize land for fossil fuel infrastructure.
Montpelier High School student Carmen Richardson-Skinner said, “Young people’s biggest priority is fighting the climate crisis. ... So why would we live in a state without the infrastructure to do it? The Vermont Green New Deal is crucial to meeting Vermont’s emissions goals.”
Danielle Bombardier, secretary/treasurer of the Vermont State Labor Council and a labor organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 300, “S.311 is a start to far-reaching Green New Deal legislation that must emerge in coming years,” she said. “The bill is progressively funded, seeks to address basic environmental concerns and results in job creation. It’s good for the economy and the environment.”
Maddie Kempner, policy director of the Vermont chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, said its members were facing unprecedented challenges that included climate change.
“(The Vermont Green New Deal) provides an exciting opportunity to recognize ecologically sound farming practices as a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis,” she said.
Pollina noted an ongoing “denial” when it came to taking action on climate change.
“It’s not a denial of climate change – people recognize climate change is a problem,” he said. “It’s a denial of the fact that we need to make the investments in order to combat climate change. It’s not enough to say that it exists and then we’re not going to do anything about it.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman said he also supports the bill. “I’m extremely pleased that Senator Pollina introduced this legislation; it’s a topic that a number of us have been talking about with respect to the Trump tax cuts and the wealthiest folks who, generally, are doing OK. The idea of a marginal tax on them to retrieve some of that tax cut to invest in our future is, frankly, a no-brainer,” he added.
Speaking after the news conference, Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said lawmakers were working on several bills to address climate change that were identified as priorities in the current session.
“We’re working to accelerate our renewable electricity goals, increase the supply of local power in our utilities’ portfolios, modernize Efficiency Vermont to deliver more substantial emissions reductions, and expand the number of professionals who’ve been trained in their respective fields to reduce environmental impacts,” Ashe said. “In addition, to tackle Vermont’s largest source of emissions from the transportation sector, we’re looking to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative once we’re confident it will be a good deal for Vermont. We’re also working on the Global Warming Solutions bill which just passed the House.”
Committee chairman, Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, who is also a sponsor of S.311, said the committee is expected to consider the bill.
In response to concerns that the committee may not have time to vote on the bill before crossover to continue passage through the Legislature, Bray said there is still a chance it could make it through committee and the session, by attaching it to another bill that passes.
“So ... we’ll be holding a public hearing and we’ll be looking for opportunities to work (on it), post-crossover,” Bray said.
Pollina’s bill is a local extension of the Green New Deal proposed at the federal level in February 2019 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.