Vermont students flooded the State House last month to speak to legislators about the dire need to take bold action to address climate change. Their pleas and passion were welcomed by the many new climate champions who joined the Vermont Legislature this year. As the Trump administration scorns its responsibility to tackle climate change, state and local governments have new opportunities to show leadership and pave the way for a cleaner and more prosperous future.
Climate change is the biggest environmental and public health challenge of our generation — and the next. According to the latest science, we must reach zero polluting emissions by 2050 to avoid the most disastrous effects of a changing planet. While Vermont has made strides advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy, we are falling behind in reducing toxic climate pollution from burning fossil fuels in our cars and homes.
A recent report from the Regulatory Assistance Project showed that Vermont can cut pollution and save money following a model similar to what we already do with energy efficiency. Expanding Vermont’s successful weatherization programs that improve building insulation and performance, and expanding opportunities to help more Vermonters drive electric vehicles, can take a bite out of the biggest sources of climate pollution in Vermont. To make these happen at the level needed to make a real impact requires stepping up our commitment.
One bill being considered this year is a Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act (H.462). This bill would ensure that Vermont takes action to cut carbon pollution, protecting families and businesses from the worst effects of climate catastrophe while growing the state’s economy.
A decade ago, Vermont was one of the first states to set high goals to reduce toxic climate pollution. Unfortunately, they were just goals. And, while the state took some small steps over the years to advance electric vehicles, increase wind and solar for electricity, or make homes more energy efficient, a recent report shows that since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont have actually increased by 16 percent.
Clearly, these small steps have fallen short. Tackling climate change demands serious, committed action. Another decade of falling behind is not an option, and goals alone are not enough. The Global Warming Solutions Act will get Vermont back on track by requiring that the state cut carbon pollution to levels in line with our goals. This will avert the worst impacts of climate disruption, as well as create jobs and stimulate the economy.
Here’s how it works. First, the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act makes the state’s existing carbon pollution goals enforceable requirements. This will ensure policies and regulations are in place to slash emissions 75 percent by 2050, so we are on course over the next 30 years to avoid climate catastrophe. The bill also includes requirements for showing progress along the way, so we avoid missing targets in the future.
Next, it directs the state to evaluate and implement the best approaches. It’s not prescriptive about how to make the reductions we need, leaving those choices to agencies with expertise on these matters. But it does create a transparent, open and inclusive process that gives everyone, from farmers to builders to local communities, a voice in crafting the state’s path forward. In developing approaches, the state will consider impacts and benefits to the economy, environment and public health to ensure solutions are effective and work for everyone.
It also builds on existing success. Both Massachusetts and Connecticut have similar laws and have succeeded in cutting climate pollution while growing their economies. The bill provides a framework that all existing and future climate actions fit within. Whether we increase renewable energy generation in Vermont or join regional or national efforts to cut pollution, all those activities will help satisfy the state standards.
Taking bold action now on climate change provides many benefits. It fosters innovation and job growth in what is already the fastest-growing sector of the economy, and protects the health of all Vermonters. It is the sort of sensible, bold action that will secure a sound future for all Vermonters.
Sandra Levine is a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier, www.clf.org.