VT Budget Climate Package Update

While legislators and the governor continue to debate critical components of the state budget, all indications are that he, and they, intend to leave the budget’s climate package as the House and Senate passed it earlier this month.

Last year, we told you about an incredible opportunity for Vermont to invest in clean, electric school buses. In the aftermath of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, Vermont was part of a national settlement with the company. A key part of that settlement requires VW to pay each state to invest in technologies that will reduce the very emissions VW’s phony emissions controls were supposed to prevent in the first place.

Vermont’s portion of the settlement will be $18.7 million over the next several years. In 2017, despite an outpouring of support for electric buses and other electric options, the Scott Administration made clear that left to their own devices, they intended to spend a significant portion of that money on new diesel vehicles – investing in fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when we need to be moving away from it as quickly as we can.

Working with key legislators and other environmental groups, VPIRG was able to secure language in the state budget that required the administration only spend VW settlement money in FY19 on electric transportation. And while the budget has not yet been signed by Governor Scott, it appears clear that this portion of the budget will remain unchanged as negotiations continue on the larger issues.

Earlier this week, the Agency of Natural Resources released their plan for using the funds received from the Volkswagen settlement. The plan will focus the first year of funding specifically on electric buses (in compliance with the language in the budget), as well as electric vehicle charging.

Check back next week for more details on this plan.

Also contained in the climate package is the decarbonization study recommended by the Governor’s Climate Action Commission. This will devote $120,000 to study regulatory and market-based decarbonization (read “climate action”) mechanisms. The legislature’s nonpartisan economic analysts will carry out this impartial study of carbon pricing and other climate action measures, examining how they will affect, and benefit, Vermont’s economy.

The budget is also notable for what it does not contain – namely, a $500,000 cut to the Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF) proposed by Governor Scott. That proposed cut threatened the Fund’s existence, as it would have functionally zeroed it out with no plan for future funding. This threat also came after Gov. Scott proposed to not pay $453,000 back to the Fund which had earlier been moved into the general fund.

Rather than gut the CEDF and cripple its ability to move Vermont towards developing local renewable energy, Senate Appropriations members (and ultimately the legislature as a whole) chose —  after urging by VPIRG, Renewable Energy Vermont, and VNRC– to not only reject Gov. Scott’s proposed cuts, but to also backfill the money owed to the Fund.

Other provisions were also included in the climate package:

  • The Vermont State Treasury can now invest upwards of $5 million in weatherization loans.
  • $200,000 will be invested in ANR’s woodstove change out program, which provides incentives for Vermonters replacing old, inefficient wood stoves with newer, more efficient ones.

While we certainly need much bolder climate action if we’re going to reach our greenhouse gas reductions goals, the inclusion of this package in the budget is an important step – and it wouldn’t have happened without the support of Vermonters like you who showed up for public comment, made calls, sent emails, attended educational forums and more.

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