Slow Progress on Addressing Climate Change

I share the frustration of many who feel that the Vermont legislature is not moving fast or far enough in addressing climate change caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases. The budget and revenue bills and climate-related bills that have passed the House did not accomplish as much as I would have preferred.  I would have preferred to have seen more investment in a program to expand the prevalence of electric vehicles (EVs) in Vermont as well as the infrastructure to support them. I would have liked to see revenue raised for this investment through a carbon tax or a gas tax.  For example, H.277, which I sponsored, would raise $30 million toward these investments through a 5-cent gas tax.

I have supported other initiatives that, unfortunately, have not yet progressed this session. For example, I support increased incentives for installing solar panels through stronger net metering opportunities (H.423) and disincentives for the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure (H.175). I would like to see a stronger commitment to meeting the State’s greenhouse gas reduction goals (H.462). As the biennium progresses, I will continue to advocate for these bills, which I cosponsored, as well as bills sponsored by others that address climate change.

Not all the news on the climate front is bad, however. The legislature is making progress on several fronts. The House passed a 2-cent increase in the fuel tax (H.439) to raise an additional $4.5 million for weatherization assistance and furnace replacement for low-income homeowners and renters. With this increase, the budget includes a total of $18.2 million for this program. An additional $350,000 was budgeted in a workforce development bill (H.533) to train individuals in weatherization work.

The Transportation Committee has made progress in addressing the transportation sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in H.529 (passed by the House). It has recognized the importance of expanding Vermont’s public transit system, particularly in the rural parts of the State. The bill commissions two studies: one to evaluate methods to increase public transit ridership in Vermont and a second to conduct a technical analysis of commuter rail service utilizing self-propelled diesel rail cars.

H.529 also lays the groundwork for the expansion of EV ownership in Vermont. The bill establishes an EV incentive program, providing up to $5,000 (depending on household income level) toward the purchase or lease of a new or used EV. The budget passed by the House includes seed money of $1.5 million for the program, which could fund the incentive for 300 to 600 vehicles. H.529 also requires the Department of Public Service to produce a study of how to extend this incentive program to meet the levels of EV adoption set forth in Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, which suggests that annual sales of EV and plug-in hybrid EVs will need to reach 4,600 by 2025 in order for the State to reach its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The budget also includes $300,000 for EV charging stations at Park & Ride locations.

Is this enough for Vermont to be able to say that it is doing its part to address climate change? No. Unfortunately, we are making incremental progress on an issue that requires expeditious action on a large scale. I recognize this and will, therefore, continue to advocate for alacrity and boldness, including identifying an adequate ongoing funding source for EV purchase and lease incentives and EV infrastructure, expansion of public transit options, incentives for the development of renewable energy, and disincentives for the burning of fossil fuels.