Climate Action

Wind turbines from the Maple Ridge Wind Farm, the state’s largest wind farm, loom above the horizon in Martinsburg, N.Y. A new law signed Thursday, July 18, 2019, by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sets the nation’s most aggressive targets for reducing carbon emissions and is intended to drive dramatic changes over the next 30 years. It calls for all the state’s electricity to come from renewable, carbon-free sources such as solar, wind and hydropower. Transportation and building heating systems would also run on clean electricity rather than oil and gas.

Reckless inaction — and even backward movement — to tackle climate change at the federal level spurred states in our region to step up and show what success looks like. Such action is needed now more than ever. As a result of our forward progress, many in our region will breathe cleaner air and take a greater part in the transition away from polluting fossil fuels.

In neighboring New York, a newly passed law calls for some of the strongest climate reductions in the country. From a state that includes our nation’s biggest city, as well as large rural areas and many industries, this bill is a big deal.

The New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act sets a new mandate that requires 40% emission reductions by 2030 and 85% by 2050. Recognizing this alone is not enough, the law also commits New York to reaching net-zero emissions across all sectors by 2050. That will require cleaner transportation, cleaner industry and cleaner agriculture.

To make sure the required reductions are fair, and benefit the broad population, the law focuses on reducing pollution and enhancing benefits including training, jobs, and expanding cleaner technologies and energy efficiency in disadvantaged communities.

The New York law also establishes a Climate Action Council. This group, together with the state’s environmental agency, will report every four years on progress toward these requirements and make recommendations for further action. A separate requirement is in place to clean up the electricity supply. The new law requires 70% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% zero emission electricity by 2040. It seems no surprise that the proponents of the Green New Deal come from the state that just passed a law combining climate justice with climate action.

Farther east, the Maine legislature also took bold action this year to curb the worst effects of climate change and poise the region for clearer skies and a cleaner energy economy. The Maine law requires 80% emissions reductions by 2050, with required interim reductions along the way. It also establishes a monitoring plan to make sure the reductions happen. A Climate Council will create and update the climate plan every four years and identify specific mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies, along with reporting on the clean energy economy and the effects of climate change.

In advancing a clean energy economy, the Maine law targets education and employment opportunities for rural parts of the state to benefit from this transition.

What about between these two states? What progress did Vermont make?

The scant action on climate that Vermont took this past year stands in stark contrast to our neighbors. Vermont can no longer rest on its laurels and claim to be a clean energy leader. In fact, while other states are moving forward with required greenhouse gas reductions, Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising — and have been for a number of years. We are not making progress; in fact, we are headed in the wrong direction.

The Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act, introduced this past session in the Vermont Legislature, should be a priority for next year. If passed, this law would make Vermont’s current goals to reduce polluting emissions actual requirements — a step already taken by nearly every other state in the region including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and New York. In doing so, Vermont can get back on track, and join our neighbors in being part of the solution instead of making the problem worse.

This new legislation would set the mandate to reduce pollution, and then allow the best solutions to come forward. With renewed commitment, Vermont can help farmers, builders, businesses and local communities grow the economy while protecting our health and our environment so future generations can thrive.

The examples set this year by New York and Maine blaze a clear path forward. By banding together with our neighbors, we can all do our part and together send harmful climate pollution packing.

Sandra Levine is a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier. She is a regular contributor to the Weekly Planet feature in Perspective.

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