It has been two years since Gov. Phil Scott appointed the Climate Action Commission.
Unlike many of his fellow Republican governors, Scott has acknowledged the global crisis and said he supports the Paris Climate Accord. In that vein, he seemed optimistic that the 21-member panel convened as a result of his executive order would deliver results.
They did. After a year of meetings, the commission produced a report that recommended ways Vermont could reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also encouraging economic and job growth — a tenet of Scott’s administration.
The recommendations included new incentives to grow the use of electric vehicles, expanding efforts to weatherize homes and additional land conservation, among others. The report is not a panacea for reaching the state’s energy goals, but it provides steps in that direction.
It states “solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions must spur economic activity, inspire and grow Vermont businesses, and put Vermonters on a path to affordability; the development of solutions must engage all Vermonters, so no individual or group of Vermonters is unduly burdened; and (proposes) programs developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must collectively provide solutions for all Vermonters to reduce their carbon impact and save money.”
In this space, we commended Scott for recognizing the problem and putting the commission together in the first place. To not take such a step in Vermont would be foolhardy; no governor here — Republican, Democrat or independent — could ever turn their back on the environment, conservation or climate change and not expect retribution in the polls.
In this space, we also praised the commission’s work, saying its suggestions were the right answer — at a local level — to a global crisis. It proffered opportunities, like building up the climate economy, rather than providing fear-based demands. It is a thoughtful approach to solutions that would, ultimately, lead to changes in behaviors, buying patterns and investment.
The ultimate goal is a lofty one, and some critics say it’s unreasonable because, they argue, to get there could prove very costly to Vermont’s taxpayers.
By 2030, Vermont has committed to cutting emissions to 40% below 1990 levels.
However, the report notes that emissions rose 10% from 2014 through 2015. Notably, most of the state’s climate pollution spike came from increasing fossil fuel use in the energy sectors of transportation and heating.
Now, two years later, we posit: What has this governor done in response to that commission’s hard work and recommendations?
The answer is: Very little.
In this last session, Scott set aside $1.5 million for electric vehicles; he committed staff to participate in talks on a Transportation in Climate Initiative, and other pet projects; and money for weatherization was redirected. Scott did not stand in the way of any of these efforts, but neither did he champion the commission’s work and use his position to say, “not good enough.”
Doing little is not an option. The clock is ticking.
In fact, it is just as expensive for Vermonters to heat their homes for half of the year. The cost of doing so is burdensome for most households. That struggle is real. Making the switch requires bold action. Providing incentives for weatherizing, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and switching to electric vehicles is key, especially for low-income Vermonters.
Proponents of the recommendations see them as an investment toward a future where more Vermonters get away from fossil fuels (and reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions that are leading to climate change). The return on investment will come.
And for certain, these “investments” would create more jobs in Vermont’s climate economy. The governor is constantly saying we need to create new jobs, develop the workforce, and provide better wages for Vermonters.
At the time of the report’s release last year, one quote should have been manna for Scott:
“While it’s a crisis, it’s also a wealth opportunity. I think that we can create a cleaner environment, and we can also have a robust economy,” said Bill Laberge, owner of Grassroots Solar in Dorset, one of several businesspeople who sat on the commission.
Climate change advocates seem to be turning skeptical of Scott’s commitment to enact emissions-reduction policies. Some would argue that politics (cutting against the grain of Scott’s affordability promise to voters) overshadows any pragmatism required for bold action (for all Vermonters).
In such hot times, this governor seems to have developed cold feet.
You can read the commission report at https://anr.vermont.gov/sites/anr/files/Final%20VCAC%20Report.pdf