Facing Climate Change

The world is facing unprecedented challenges associated with climate change as a result of human activities. Last year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change confirmed the consensus of the scientific community, warning that “climate change is the defining challenge of our time.” This is a critical issue for Vermont. As the Vermont Climate Action Commission has noted, “global climate change is a fundamental threat to Vermont, to our economy, environment, and way of life.”

In my four years in the State House, I have been advocating for Vermont to do its part in addressing the climate challenge. For example, I have sponsored bills that would place a price on carbon with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our transportation and heating sectors. This approach, however, has faced strong opposition in the legislature. Although I continue to believe that placing disincentives on the use of fossil fuels should be part of the solution, this biennium I am seeking other approaches to make progress on this issue.

A recent report commissioned by the legislature from the Regulatory Assistance Project, an independent organization focused on clean energy, supports alternative approaches. Indeed, the report concludes that attempting to reduce Vermont’s carbon emissions based on carbon pricing alone would be more costly and less effective than other public policies. This report suggests policies that will allow “a transition to low-carbon energy services in Vermont based on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and fuel switching from fossil sources to beneficial electrification, especially for vehicles and home heating.”

As a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, comprised of over eighty members from the House and Senate, I am collaborating to enact such policies to meaningfully respond to the crisis of climate change. The Caucus is advocating for key investments in the 2020 budget. These include doubling the number of homes covered by the State’s weatherization assistance program and maintaining the Clean Energy Development Fund to assist with alternative heating sources.

In addition, one of the key initiatives this biennium will be to increase the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in Vermont and the infrastructure to support them. Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan provides that about 50,000 Electric Vehicles (EVs) should be on Vermont roads by 2025 to replace gasoline-powered vehicles. If Vermont switched all our gasoline-powered cars and trucks over to electric today, that would save Vermonters around $500 million in fuel costs every year. This year’s transportation bill includes a pilot incentive program that would help households purchase an EV: $2,500 off of the purchase of an EV or plug-in hybrid at the point of sale. There are proposed limits on the income of those who would receive grants (140% of median household income, about $75,000) and the base value of the vehicle.

With only about 3,000 EVs and plug-in hybrids registered in Vermont today, the House Transportation Committee is discussing ways to leverage funds received from lawsuits against VW and Fiat-Chrysler to enhance the proposed EV incentive program. Additionally, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and VTrans are proposing to spend settlement money on EV-charging infrastructure grants, an electric school bus pilot program, and other efforts to limit emissions from “clean diesel” vehicles.

Although my emphasis is moving away from efforts to place a price on carbon, I have not abandoned that approach. For instance, to help pay for EV incentives and infrastructure, I have sponsored a bill to raise funds from a five-cent increase in Vermont’s gas tax, which would bring in approximately $30 million dollars. I also support a bill that would authorize Vermont to join a multi-state carbon pricing program.