To meet greenhouse gas emissions goal, Vermont needs ‘broad buy-in’ from residents

Local News

MONTPELIER – The Vermont Legislature passed a sweeping Global Warming Solutions Act last year that includes creation of a 23-member council tasked with identifying strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On Wednesday, members of the Vermont Climate Council briefed the House Transportation Committee on their work thus far as the group prepares to enter what might be the busiest phase of its timeline.

“We know that a lot of the work that’s going to be required to achieve our greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, whether it’s in the transportation sector or the building heat sector, is really going to require changes in habitual behavior,” said Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore. “It’s essential that we get broad buy-in from the public as we’re beginning this work.”

The Global Warming Solutions Act is a legally-binding document that spells out all of Vermont’s emission reduction targets over the next three decades, the first being a 26 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2025.

So, how do we get there? That’s what the Vermont Climate Council is working on, with plans to have a final Climate Action Plan ready by December 1. Right now, Secretary Moore identified one particular area that will need to see significant changes if Vermont is to meet its ambitious goals.

“The most recent report from the Energy Action Network suggets that we need over 40,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, which is a tenfold increase from where we sit right now,” Moore said. “We’re also only at about one-fifth of the publicly-available charging infrastructure that we need. There’s an enormous amount of work that needs to take place in this space.”

The council will likely discuss efforts already underway to tackle climate change in Vermont, like a bill working its way through the Legislature that would ramp up Vermont’s Electric Vehicle Incentive Program. Vermonters who make less than $50,000 a year would get $3,000 for switching to a hybrid, or $4,000 for going fully electric.

Meanwhile, Vermont is monitoring but not yet participating in a multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative that establishes a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, and charges fuel suppliers who go over it. Some believe that money could go a long way in the council’s efforts once plans are developed.

“I think it’s important to say that the Transportation and Climate Initiative is not a carbon tax,” said Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins (D-Chittenden). “It has another policy tool to it that says ‘this is as far as you can go,’ and that cap piece is really critical.”

“If TCI does move forward, Vermont could have the ability to shape where those dollars go and direct them to more rural places, or places that carry a greater energy burden,” said Johanna Miller of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

All ideas appear to be on the table for the council as they delve into a busy summer, which begins with a public feedback process. That will be followed by a closer analysis of how any future eco-friendly changes would impact sectors like transportation, construction and agriculture.

“It’ll mean for a busy fall when we come back in September and attempt to put together the complete Climate Action Plan,” said Jane Lazorchak, Director of the Global Warming Solutions Act. “Trying to understand what each policy and strategy will cost and mean on the ground for Vermonters.”

Secretary Moore is inviting Vermonters to join her on May 25 from 4:00-5:00 PM for a virtual conversation about climate change in Vermont, where she will talk about the work of the Vermont Climate Council and provide an update on the upcoming Climate Action Plan. Join the public meeting virtually or by phone by calling (802) 828-7667 (code: 868107321).

The Global Warming Solutions Act was passed in September, when lawmakers voted to override Governor Phil Scott’s veto of the bill.

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