Climate Action Back in Focus in VT Legislature

Over the past two plus months, the legislature has been hard at work addressing the immediate needs of Vermonters as the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded. Legislators have passed or dug into putting a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, directing hazard pay to essential workers, enabling safe elections during the pandemic, addressing financial strains on our schools and state colleges, and many, many other critical issues.

At the same time, the other challenges and crises facing our state and our world have not gone away. In fact, many have been brought into even more stark relief as this public health and economic crisis has unfolded. And over the past week, the legislature has been able to begin shifting some of its time to focus on these other pressing issues.

This week, the Senate passed two bills aimed at the causes and impacts of the climate crisis, and is taking up the House-passed Global Warming Solutions Act in committee.

This renewed focus comes at am important time. The communities most impacted by coronavirus are the same communities most impacted by the high energy costs and toxic air pollution of our fossil-fuel-based energy system – and most at risk of experiencing climate disasters. To ensure that our recovery from the coronavirus leads to a more resilient, healthier state for all Vermonters, rather than a return to the status quo, we must make long-term investments in sustainable and climate-resilient communities and infrastructure.

That’s why we were encouraged to see the State Senate pass S.337 (the efficiency modernization pilot) and S.185 (the climate & public health planning bill) on Tuesday, and schedule committee time to review the Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688) on Thursday and Friday of this week.

You can read more about these measures below.

With the Global Warming Solutions Act at their core, these bills represent an important step forward for climate action in Vermont.

Close to two dozen other organizations and businesses have already signed on to our joint letter to the House and the Senate thanking them for their work on COVID-19 and urging them to continue to prioritize the climate crisis this year. Click here to add your name.

CLIMATE LEGISLATION UPDATES and SUMMARIES: 

H. 688, the Global Warming Solutions Act, passed the full House in February in a strong, tri-partisan 105 to 37 vote. It requires Senate action and it was taken up in Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee on May 21. This committee will take testimony on the bill next week. Public and policy maker support — and a strong vote in the Senate — are needed.

This bill would put Vermont on a path toward meeting our commitment to the Paris Climate Accord by 2025 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by turning our current greenhouse gas reduction goals into requirements and setting binding deadlines for the state to cut climate pollution. The bill would also spur the creation of a Climate Action Council tasked with developing a detailed plan to reduce emissions and bolster our climate adaptation efforts–ensuring that the communities, infrastructure, and economy of the Green Mountain State are more resilient to the impacts of climate change. This plan would then be used to inform Agency of Natural Resources rulemakings on reducing climate pollution.

Vermont currently lacks the kind of strategic planning process and implementation framework this bill offers. Such a framework is critical for doing our part to combat the climate crisis – as well as strategically moving out of the COVID-19 crisis into recovery in a way that prioritizes Vermont’s most vulnerable, puts people to work in the local, clean energy economy and recognizes the unique assets that will make our state more resilient, independent and strong – including our farms and forests.

S. 337, the Energy Efficiency Modernization Act, passed the Senate earlier this week, making its way to the House — and to the House Energy & Technology Committee specifically. A vote in the full House will be needed to move it out of the legislature and to the Governor’s desk for signing. This bill would create a three-year pilot program allowing energy efficiency entities, namely Efficiency Vermont, to spend up to $2 million of its current budget annually over the next three years on projects aimed at reducing climate pollution in Vermont’s thermal and transportation sectors. Historically, Efficiency Vermont has focused on reducing the amount of electricity Vermonters use.

S. 185, An Act to Adopt a Health-Focused Climate Response Plan, passed the Senate earlier this week, making its way to the House — and to the House Human Services Committee specifically. A full House, affirmative vote will be needed to move it out of the Legislature and to the Governor’s desk for signing. Proposes to require the Department of Health to develop and adopt a statewide climate change response plan. It also aims to require regional planning commissions to develop a communications plan for the purpose of mitigating and responding to climate change related public health risks.

S.267, an expansion of Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard, would require utilities to get all their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and would increase the amount of new, in-state renewable energy utilities would have to purchase or generate to 20 percent by 2032. Having so far only passed the Senate Finance Committee, with limited committee time available and other climate bills further along in the legislative process, it is unclear whether S.267 will move this year.

Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI): This regional initiative – being negotiated by 11 states and Washington DC – is modeled after the successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-invest program requiring pollution reductions in the electric sector. TCI is an effort to reduce carbon pollution in the transportation sector by placing a cap on emissions from fossil fuel companies and using revenue raised to help participating states invest in cleaner transportation options like electric buses and cars, public transit, park-and-rides, sidewalks and bike infrastructure, housing options in and near our downtowns and more. It is unclear whether and when any legislative effort is need – or will be undertaken this year. Potential legislation could require Vermont’s participation in the program, and it could aim to shape any potential participation, including how any TCI-generated revenues would be spent.