VPIRG is pursuing action on multiple fronts in the 2024 legislative session. From climate to consumer protection and toxics to democracy, we’re seeking progress that will improve the lives of Vermonters and demonstrate leadership at a time when that is sorely needed.
CLIMATE & CLEAN ENERGY
Make Big Oil Pay – Climate Change Superfund
Climate change is hitting Vermont hard and costing us billions. The extra costs show up whenever we pay to recover from an extreme weather event like last summer’s floods. The costs also show up in higher utility bills, increased insurance premiums, and our taxes. Right now, those costs are paid primarily by Vermont families and businesses, and our communities are feeling the pinch. But one group isn’t paying – the Big Oil companies like ExxonMobil and Shell that knowingly polluted our atmosphere and caused the climate to change. It’s their mess and they should be required to pay a fair share to clean it up. “If you make a mess, you help clean it up” is a value that most of us learned in kindergarten. But Big Oil doesn’t think it should apply to them. Instead, they are happy making billions of dollars in profits while sticking Vermonters with the bill. It’s not fair and the Climate Change Superfund Act is landmark legislation that will hold Big Oil companies accountable.
Renewable Energy Standard
Policies around electric generation that get new renewables built reduce climate pollution – policies that don’t get new renewables built, no matter how well-intentioned, do not reduce climate pollution. Right now, Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard only requires Vermont’s utilities to get 10% of the power they provide Vermonters from new renewables by 2032. That’s not nearly good enough, which is why we’ve kept working hard since the last session wrapped in May to make sure we’ll be able to hit the ground running in January. That work is paying off, and our goal this session is to get an overhaul to the Renewable Energy Standard passed into law that requires 100% renewables by 2030, including far more new renewables, and sets Vermont on a path to get a majority of our electricity from new renewable sources within the next 15 years.
Climate Resilience, Climate Workforce, Investing in Energy Equity, and Affordable Heat Act Implementation
In addition to the Make Big Oil Pay and Renewable Energy Standard campaigns, we’re all in on supporting the work of the legislature and our allies to make Vermont more climate resilient, and to ensure we’re doing everything we can to support Vermonters and Vermont businesses impacted by this summer’s climate-fueled flooding. We’ll also be pushing for additional funding to build Vermont’s climate workforce and enable more investments in energy efficient, electrified housing (especially affordable housing), and will be working to make sure the legislature is watchdogging the Public Utilities Commission’s implementation of the efficiency modernization pilot program authorized last session. And last but certainly not least, we’ll be keeping an eye on any action necessary to ensure the success of the Affordable Heat Act. Having passed last session, that program is now being designed at the Public Utilities Commission and will be fully reviewed by the legislature in 2025, so we do not expect much if any legislative work to be required on it in 2024.
Ranked Choice Voting
Our American democracy is under greater threat right now than it has ever been during the lifetime of any person currently alive. Voting rights are under attack in states around the country, Congress is in dysfunction, most voters in one of nation’s main political parties believe the last presidential election was stolen, and they are prepared to nominate a presidential candidate, again, who led an insurrection and is facing 91 felony counts in four separate criminal cases.
Though the threat to our democracy is real, we are not required to sit on the sidelines here in Vermont. We can demonstrate leadership and strengthen our own democratic system right here, right now. The Vermont Senate passed a bill last year to bring Ranked Choice Voting to presidential primaries beginning in 2028. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) would give Vermonters more choices and a stronger voice in the elections process. It would also cut down on wasted votes and encourage more people to participate.
Ranked Choice Voting – Burlington, VT
In the past two years, the RCV movement made large gains in the Queen City. After adopting RCV for city council races in 2021, nearly two-thirds of Burlington voters favored expanding its use to virtually all local races, including the upcoming mayoral race in March. VPIRG is now working with city officials, candidates, and voters to ensure that RCV is implemented successfully.
Campaign Finance Reform
The federal government has banned corporations from contributing directly to candidates for over 100 years, and 22 states have done the same. It’s time for Vermont to curb the influence of corporations by banning corporate contributions to candidates and requiring more transparency from corporate political action committees (PACs). Rather than depend on large donors and corporate cash, Vermont can instead find ways to fund campaigns by encouraging more small dollar donations.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH & ZERO WASTE
Modernize the Bottle Bill
The Bottle Bill is Vermont’s most popular and successful recycling program, improving and increasing recycling. For decades, VPIRG has worked to modernize the Bottle Bill to cover non-carbonated beverages and to make the program more convenient for consumers and beneficial to small businesses.
And we’ve celebrated some big victories along the way – including passing a modernization package (H.158) through the Legislature in 2023. Despite the broad public and legislative support for the Bottle Bill legislation, Governor Scott sided with industry opponents, vetoing H.158 on June 29th.
The House and Senate will likely vote to override the Governor’s veto at the beginning of the legislative session in early 2024, and though both chambers overwhelmingly supported the bill, the Senate was one vote shy of a veto-proof majority. We have been hard at work mobilizing Vermonters to urge their Senators to support the override vote – and will continue to deploy every tool in our toolbox to ensure the victory of the Bottle Bill override vote in 2024.
Protect Vermonters from Toxic Chemicals in Products
VPIRG is urging legislators to build on past successful regulation on toxic chemicals in products by passing S.25, a bill aimed at banning PFAS and other dangerous chemicals from personal care products, period products, textiles, and artificial turf. S.25 passed the Senate unanimously last session, and in 2024 we will work with the House to strengthen and pass the bill into law.
Protect Our Pollinators
Bees are dying at an alarming rate. Half of Vermont’s bumble bee species have either vanished or are at risk of extinction. Of the many challenges facing bees, we will be focusing our efforts on pesticides this legislative session, particularly neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a class of neurotoxic insecticides that are used on agricultural crops, lawns, gardens, golf courses and in flea and tick pet treatments. They are toxic not just to target pests, but also bees, butterflies, birds, fish and other wildlife. Some studies suggest a threat to human health as well.
VPIRG is working with a coalition of groups – Protect Our Pollinators VT – to encourage the legislature to phase out the use of toxic neonicotinoid pesticides and help Vermont Farmers transition to more sustainable pest management alternatives.
VPIRG has been a staunch supporter of the fair repair movement – that is, the effort to require manufacturers to provide consumers and independent repair shops access to all of the parts, tools, and documentation necessary to fix the products we own.
In a significant win for Vermont’s farmers and forestry professionals, the Vermont House passed H.81 on a 137-2 vote. The bill, if enacted, would establish a right-to-repair for agricultural and forestry equipment in Vermont.
The lack of a right-to-repair has been a particular concern in the agricultural sector, as large equipment manufacturers have withheld access to critical tools and information necessary to perform fixes on the machinery they sell. As a result, farmers are forced to rely solely on the manufacturers and authorized repair technicians to fix this machinery when it breaks. This lack of competition in the agricultural repair space means that these repairs can be costly and incur significant delays – delays that farmers cannot afford.
VPIRG and our allies in the fair repair movement will be urging the Senate to pass H.81 in the upcoming session and make Vermont the first state in the eastern U.S. to establish the right-to-repair for agricultural equipment, and the first state in the nation to do so for forestry equipment.
Comprehensive Data Privacy Reform
In recent years Vermont has been a leader in the push to give consumers control over their personal information by enacting laws to rein in the data broker industry, prevent educational software companies from misusing student data, and expanding Vermont’s data breach notification law to ensure consumers know when their information has been compromised. But Vermont has stopped short of enacting broad protections that would treat consumer data privacy as a default and give consumers the power to control how and with whom their data is shared.
VPIRG is advocating for a comprehensive consumer data privacy law that includes a strong data minimization standard, broad prohibitions on secondary data sharing, the rights to have one’s data corrected, transferred, or deleted, strong protections with respect to biometric data, and improvements to Vermont’s data broker law. The House Commerce committee considered such legislation last session, before ultimately deciding they wanted to spend the off-session looking at similar legislation in other states to understand what specific reforms should be included in Vermont’s legislation. VPIRG will be advocating for that committee to revisit this legislation early in the 2024 session.
Curbing Predatory Towing
Vermont is one of the few states in the nation that have almost no laws protecting consumers from predatory towing practices.
In 2023, the legislature enacted Act 41–a miscellaneous motor vehicle law—that tasked the Attorney General’s Office with studying towing practices in Vermont and issuing a report to the legislature that includes recommendations for possible reforms to curb predatory towing. VPIRG submitted comments to the Attorney General that contained several reforms we believe should be enacted to better protect Vermont consumers such as: maximum rates for towing and storage of vehicles, requirements that towing companies take photographic evidence of a vehicle before towing it, requiring towing companies to allow individuals access to the personal belongings in towed vehicles, among other commonsense protections.
We’re hopeful the Attorney General’s report will include recommendations that the state enact legislation that includes some or all of these consumer protections, and that the legislature move to do so in the upcoming session.
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