Legislative Climate Action

Water wells going dry in parts of Vermont due to an ongoing drought. A shortened sugaring season. Recurring annual algae blooms as Lake Champlain and other State bodies of water become progressively warmer.

These all serve as reminders that Vermonters need to continue to do their part in addressing climate change. The choices and actions of individuals are important to reduce carbon emissions. The choices and actions of the State’s legislature and Governor are also critical to address the challenge. 

At the State level, last year the Vermont legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). This Act creates legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. It requires the State to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The law created a Vermont Climate Council and charged it with developing a Climate Action Plan by December 1 of this year. That Plan must lay out an implementation strategy for the transformative change required by the statute. The Council must consider methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, opportunities for long-term carbon sequestration, and ways to enhance the resilience of Vermont’s communities and ecosystems to weather events caused by climate change. 

The legislature continued its work on climate this year. In the budget, it is supporting the work of the Climate Council and also investing $50 million on climate action. Those funds will be used, in part, to weatherize homes and support renewable energy projects.  

It also passed legislation that establishes Vermont as a leader in fighting climate change in the transportation sector. For a century, the word “transportation” in America has been virtually synonymous with the word “car.” And not just any car, but cars using an internal combustion engine. This year, the legislature worked on several bills that recognize and embrace that change is here, driven by consumer demand and environmental concerns. The Transportation Bill and FY2022 State Budget appropriated millions of dollars to triple incentives to help Vermonters shift gears from internal combustion engine vehicles to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles. An individual earning less than $50,000 is now eligible for incentives of $3000 for a plug-in electric hybrid or $4000 for an electric vehicle. For individuals with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 or families with incomes of up to $125,000, the incentives are $1500 and $2500.

To make sure Vermonters can “fill up” their new electric rides, the legislature also set aside support for additional public charging stations. Additionally, it provided grants for charging stations at multi-unit apartment buildings. And for those who would rather ride than drive, the legislature clarified regulations for electric bikes and provided an incentive program to encourage individuals to purchase this mode of transport.

 While electrifying our transportation system saves Vermonters money and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation transformation is best approached comprehensively. So legislation provided funds to construct bicycle lanes and safer streets for pedestrians and to expand Park and Ride facilities to support the growth of carpools and vanpools. The legislature also extended for a year a program providing fare-free transit on buses statewide and continued its support for establishing direct rail from Burlington to New York City.                 There is, of course, much more that needs to be done, both at the personal and State level, to do our part to address the threat of climate change.