Last week when the president made his trip to Dayton, Ohio in the wake of the mass shooting there, he was met by chanting protesters. Their demands that he “Do Something” are a cry for real change, for concrete steps to stop the killing beyond sending thoughts and prayers.
A similar cry is finding voice among climate-change activists driven by the same sense of urgency and impending doom. They may champion different approaches or priorities, but are demanding that state and federal governments finally “do something” meaningful.
This past legislative session, the Vermont legislature has indeed done something. In typical legislative fashion it falls far short of bold action demanded by climate activists, including a growing contingent of young people who are less than happy with the world we will be handing them. On the other side we still have those don’t believe that climate change is driven or accelerated by human activity, or those who simply feel that Vermont is too small to contribute to solutions in a meaningful way and our efforts are destined to be a waste of time and money.
But even small steps are still steps in the right direction. We have made a legislative start. Among those actions:
Increasing funding for home weatherization programs, primarily for low-income Vermonters, but also making funding available to middle-class home owners. Weatherization is very likely the best bang for the buck in terms of saving money, reducing carbon emissions, and generally improving health and productivity.
Providing incentives for the purchase of both new and used hybrid and electric vehicles to encourage the transition away from fossil fuels.
Expanding the number of electric vehicle charging stations to help the transition.
Establishing a pilot program for electric buses, both public transport buses and school buses.
Directing the Public Utilities Commission to investigate the creation of an “all fuels efficiency utility” — essentially providing the same kind of efficiency services in the thermal and transportation sectors that Efficiency Vermont provides in the electric sphere.
The House Committee on Energy and Technology, with six of the nine members new to the committee, dedicated the majority of its work to expanding broadband access, while the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy put its energy into water-quality issues.
It seems likely that both those committees, in addition to the Transportation Committees, will be taking a deeper dive into energy and climate issues and what steps make the most sense for Vermont. Areas where we are likely to see action include:
The Transportation and Climate Initiative (www.transportationandclimate.org), an ongoing 12-state effort to create a regional cap and trade — or more accurately a cap and invest — program on transportation emissions. Inspired by the success of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative with electric generation emissions, this would pay dividends for reductions in transportation emissions.
Some variation of a global warming solutions bill which would put Vermont’s energy goals into statute and then hold the state accountable for meeting these goals.
Creating a thermal-efficiency rating system for buildings, similar to the energy-efficiency label on a new appliance. This scorecard would provide valuable energy information to builders, home buyers, and renters.
There are many other existing ideas and a plethora of bills yet to be introduced. It is not the ideas that are lacking, but the political will to turn them into reality. That will require a groundswell of support, or better yet, of demand.
Robin Chesnut-Tangerman is a builder, home inspector, and state representative from Middletown Springs.