Governor fails to lead on climate action

Late last month, the Vermont Senate cleared the final hurdle to ensuring the Global Warming Solutions Act becomes law with the upper chamber’s 22-8 override of Gov. Phil Scott’s veto. I am thrilled to see the act pass, with both chambers of the General Assembly upholding overwhelming majorities in favor (the House vote was 103-47).

I’m also painfully aware of just how far down the path towards climate calamity we are as a society already. We’re on track for the most active hurricane season in recorded history. In the West, over five million acres have burned. That would be like the state of Vermont burning to the ground, from the Canadian border all the way south to Dorset and Springfield. That’s the context in which Scott decided to veto the Global Warming Solutions Act.

The Global Warming Solutions Act makes our statewide climate goals into binding requirements and sets up a planning and accountability framework for climate action that will build community resilience across the state. This law is a critical, overdue step towards hitting our climate goals, bolstering the resilience of our communities, strengthening our economy, protecting future generations, and making sure no Vermonter is left behind as we modernize our infrastructure and deal with the climate crisis. It requires the state to do the hard work of figuring out how we hit our climate pollution targets – and then ensures the state must, in fact, act.

In many ways, a veto override was a fitting end to the push for this bill. Climate action is supported by an overwhelming majority of Vermonters, thousands of whom turned out to climate strikes last fall. Young people, people from rural communities, interfaith groups, the medical community, low-income groups, and more have demanded climate action, and this bill in particular. And that action has consistently been opposed by a handful of corporations who stand to profit from continued fossil fuel use – and by a minority of our elected leaders, including Scott.

I am thankful for the many, many House and Senate members who stood fast against the governor’s veto. Leaders of both chambers have shown determination and commitment to wait no longer to make progress towards reversing the alarming increase in climate pollution in Vermont – pollution that’s up 13% since 1990, according to the latest data. This while all our neighboring states have accomplished significant decreases in their carbon pollution in the same time span.

However, despite overwhelming legislative and public support for the act and other necessary action on climate, there has been one consistent barrier to doing what needs to be done: Scott and his administration. Scott has shown time and again that when it comes down to actually walking the walk on climate, he is unwilling to take action remotely close to commensurate with the challenge at hand.

Scott has made statements and signed letters. Yet he has consistently opposed the actions necessary to turn his words into reality. He touts his fondness for electric vehicles, yet at the funding levels he has repeatedly stuck to it would take literally hundreds of years for enough EVs to be sold in Vermont to hit Vermont’s climate targets in the transportation sector. The same goes for weatherization. When his own handpicked commission recommended doubling weatherization funding, he instead backed a far smaller increase – one that, again, would take a century or more to get the job done.

And that’s to say nothing of his consistent support for actions that fly in the face of what’s needed – attempting to cut Efficiency Vermont’s budget, eliminate the Clean Energy Development Fund (which supports modern, efficient, wood heating systems), and slash rates for small solar at a time when the solar industry in Vermont is hemorrhaging jobs – the list goes on.

When it comes to the climate crisis, chipping away around the edges of the problem is no different than opposing action outright. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has rightly said, “Climate delayers aren’t much better than climate deniers. With either one if they get their way, we’re toast.”

Scott has been given the benefit of the doubt for a long time on the climate crisis. Ultimately though, we don’t need greenwashing – we need leadership. And on this critical topic, that is one trait Scott seems unable to demonstrate.