2018 Legislative Preview

When it comes to serious legislative action to protect our people and environment and move our state forward in a positive fashion, we cannot afford to “wait and see” any longer.

We need bold action now.

The attacks from D.C. on everything from climate to toxic chemical protections to digital privacy to our very democracy have been even worse than any of us had imagined.

But the good news is there are so many things our state can be doing right now on these issues to not only fight back — but actually demonstrate that a different way is possible.

Together, during the 2018 session, let’s work for bold policies that will make Vermont a place where our people are healthy, our environment is protected, our communities are safe, prosperous and resilient, our children are nurtured and supported, and where every Vermonter—regardless of identity or background—is treated with dignity and respect.

Below are VPIRG’s 2018 legislative priorities:

Climate and Clean Energy

Putting a Price on Carbon Pollution – In late 2017, a distinguished group of Vermont business owners and low-income advocates accepted Gov. Phil Scott’s challenge to find climate solutions that reduce pollution while strengthening the Vermont economy.  Their proposal – the ESSEX Plan – has won accolades for its innovative approach and transformative potential.  By transitioning Vermonters off of polluting fossil fuel and onto clean electricity, the ESSEX Plan would reduce carbon emissions in Vermont by 30-50% and keep $1 billion circulating in our local economy.  While Gov. Scott has maintained his opposition to bold climate action, his hand-picked Climate Action Commission has seen the ESSEX Plan’s potential and requested a non-partisan economic analysis of the concept.

Legislators too have taken note of the ESSEX Plan. Already, Senators Chris Pearson (Chittenden County) and Allison Clarkson (Windsor County) have submitted one bill – S.284 – modeled on the concept.  We expect companion legislation to be introduced soon in the House.  In the months ahead the Energy Independent Vermont coalition will be working with its allies inside and outside the State House to advance this legislation and put Vermont on track to meet its climate and clean energy goals.

Appliance Efficiency Standards – In 2017, VPIRG successfully advocated for the Vermont Legislature to pass H.411, which mandates that if the existing federal standards are repealed, rolled back, or withdrawn, Vermont will adopt those same standards as they exist today. These standards, collectively the second most significant federal climate policy ever adopted, save Vermont consumers about $555 on their electric bills each year. Since that law’s passage, other states around the region have begun actively considering taking similar steps. In 2018, VPIRG will advocate for Vermont to expand state standards to include additional products that aren’t currently covered by a federal standard, like computers and computer monitors.

Volkswagen Settlement – Following Volkswagen’s deceptive emissions practices, the Department of Justice has reached a nearly $4 billion settlement with the company. Part of that settlement includes funds for state projects to get dirty fossil fuel vehicles off the roads. Vermont will get almost $19 million through this settlement, which could go a long way to kickstarting a transportation transformation to electric vehicles. We’re advocating for the state to focus that investment on electric school buses, and car charging stations.

Holding the Line on Climate and Energy Progress – Over the past decade, VPIRG has helped create one of the boldest arenas in the nation for innovative policy on renewables, efficiency, and electrification. We have built a strong foundation for the work we need to do to transition to a clean energy future, but we still have a long way to go. We certainly cannot afford to roll back the progress we’ve made, but bills have already been filed this session that would do just that. So, VPIRG will do everything in our power to defend and strengthen Vermont’s climate and clean energy policies moving forward.

Environmental Health

Toxic Chemical Reform – The primary focus of our Environmental Health program, S.103, was introduced last year in response to the PFOA toxic contamination in Bennington County. After the alarming discovery in early 2016 that drinking water wells in North Bennington and other areas were contaminated by a toxic chemical known as PFOA, the legislature asked a diverse group of experts (including VPIRG’s Executive Director) to develop recommendations for preventing such chemical threats in the future. During the 2018 legislative session, we’ll be fighting hard to make sure these recommendations are enacted in order to protect our drinking water and public health. One key provision will specifically provide greater protections for children from toxins in toys and other products.

Legal Remedies for Impacted Residents – Vermonters deserve the right to be protected from toxic chemical exposure, and to be able to take to court those who poisoned them. This bill (S.197) proposes to hold any person who releases a toxic substance strictly, jointly, and severally liable for any harm resulting from the release. The bill also proposes to establish a person’s right to sue a company who poisoned them for medical monitoring damages incurred due to exposure to a toxic substance. We will be working with our allies to ensure that impacted residents can get their day in court after being exposed to dangerous chemicals.

Banning PFAs in Food Packaging – VPIRG is supporting legislation that would ban the use of potentially toxic substances known as perflourinated chemicals, or PFAs, in food contact materials in the state, especially in fast food packaging. A recent survey revealed that hamburgers, French fries, burritos, pizza and other fast food items are often served in paper wrappers or boxes coated with PFAs. This is especially worrisome because on any given day, one in three American children eat fast food. In addition, low income communities experience higher rates of exposure to PFAs because of greater dependence on packaged food and purposeful fast food marketing in those communities. Our food should be safe from toxic chemicals, and this landmark legislation is an important step in keeping an entire family of cancer-causing chemicals away from our food.

Zero Waste

Defending Universal Recycling – In the final days of the 2017 session VPIRG helped to defeat an amendment that would have cut composting requirements from our state’s Zero Waste goals. In 2018, we are defending curbside recycling and our zero waste goals by ensuring that new threats to those programs do not pass. S.285 & S.287  would cut curbside recycling and organics pickup, and would have dire consequences for Vermont’s universal recycling program.

Update the Bottle Bill – Legislation updating Vermont’s popular Bottle Bill recycling program will not only ensure the law’s continued success, but will help state finances in these troubled times as well. Vermont is facing tough decisions regarding essential social & community programs that may be on the chopping block in 2018, yet the state continues to give millions of dollars away to the beverage industry from unclaimed deposits. We believe the state should stop giving that money away immediately. The law should also be expanded to include more beverage containers like water and juice bottles, and the refundable deposit, which has remained a nickel for 45 years, should be updated to a dime.

Reducing Reliance on Single Use Bags – Two bills (H.105 and H.88) are targeting all single-use bags – both plastic and paper. One of them (H.105) would prohibit the use of most of these bags, but would allow retailers and grocers to sell compostable bags for 10 cents. The other bill (H.88) is similar, but would devote some of the bag fee to state funding for recycling and zero waste programs.

Consumer Protection

Net Neutrality – In December the Trump FCC predictably moved forward in dismantling federal Net Neutrality protections. This giveaway to giant telecoms like Comcast and AT&T is a major blow to consumers, who will likely be forced to pay more for a fragmented and less accessible internet. It’s also a major blow to our democracy by tilting the playing field of speech and information toward those with the resources to afford it.

Fortunately there are steps we can take at the state level to fight back. The Vermont Senate will be exploring what steps Vermont can take and VPIRG will be vigorously advocating for policies that preserve and promote Net Neutrality in Vermont.

Free Credit Freezes – Last summer, Equifax, one of the nation’s largest credit reporting agencies, was subject to a data breach that compromised the important and sensitive information of millions of Americans. VPIRG is advocating for a suite of actions that would better protect Vermonters from these types of breaches going forward and to make sure that when these breaches do occur, consumers here have access to the appropriate recourse.

In particular, we’re supporting a bill (S.207) that would prohibit credit agencies from charging fees to consumers who elect to enact a security freeze on their credit history. Security freezes are perhaps the most effective tool consumers have to protect themselves after a data breach, like the one at Equifax, occurs. Yet because the credit reporting agencies can charge fees for these freezes, hacks like these can actually benefit these agencies’ bottom lines.

Reining in Data Brokers – Legislation was introduced last year that would have made Vermont the first state to regulate so-called data brokers—third-party businesses that collect data about consumers, primarily for the purpose of selling that data. While that legislation did not move, the Attorney General’s office studied the issue and has recommended common-sense regulations for the legislature to consider this year. VPIRG believes these recommendations represent a reasonable step to better protect Vermonters data and make it easier for consumers to control their own information.

Specifically we’ll be asking the legislature to move forward with protections that would increase consumer awareness of data broker opt-out rights, prohibit the acquisition of data for illegal purposes, require swift notice of security breaches and better protect children from having their data bought and sold.

Right to Repair – It’s common these days for many of the products you buy – from cell phones to farm equipment – to come with legal restrictions on your ability to repair, reuse or even resell the product. VPIRG supports legislation that would protect consumers by creating a free and independent market for repair and reuse of products sold in Vermont. By giving consumers a right to repair their products at more locations of their choosing, we’re saving them money, creating local jobs and protecting our environment at the same time.

Democracy and Government Reform

Elections Reform – VPIRG supports improvements to Vermont’s public financing system to make the program viable for a broader range of candidates. We are also advocating for legislation that would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in Vermont. Finally, VPIRG will oppose all attempts to suppress voter engagement and participation, including voter ID requirements recently proposed by the president.