It has been an interesting start to the 2022 session. During the first two weeks, the House and Senate did their work remotely by Zoom. The House has moved to a hybrid system with members working in their committees either in person or remotely if they have a COVID-related reason for staying out of the State House. Under these unique circumstances, the House is already tackling complicated issues, including responding to the climate crisis with a broad package of policy initiatives and investments.
The legislature is considering bills that will help the State meet the targets it established in 2019 in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), including cutting Vermont’s climate pollution in half by 2030. The bills will build on the proposals in the Vermont Climate Action Plan, which was prepared pursuant to the GWSA.
Working across Committees and in partnership with the Senate, we will be focusing on these priorities:
Weatherization at Scale. Our goal is to weatherize 90,000 homes by 2030. Right now, 70% of Vermont homes are heated with fossil fuels at a total cost of $2 billion per year, three-quarters of which leave the State. This initiative will not only reduce carbon emissions, but will also reduce the cost of heating Vermonters’ homes.
Transportation Innovation Act. Already introduced, House Bill 552 builds on the work of the Climate Council and includes policies that will reduce emissions and move us toward the availability of electrified transportation for all Vermonters. It expands incentives to help Vermonters purchase or lease EVs or more fuel-efficient vehicles — including e-bikes. It expands charging infrastructure, improves our streets for pedestrians and bicycles, and continues zero-fare public transit for Fiscal Year 2023.
Clean Heat Standard. As recommended in the Climate Action Plan, this standard would require wholesale suppliers of heating fuels to deliver clean-heating solutions to Vermonters. It would promote the delivery of advanced wood heat, biofuels, biogas, solar thermal and heat pumps for our buildings.
Municipal Fuel Switching Program. House Bill 518 would offer grants for renewable and efficient heating systems in buildings owned by cities, towns, fire districts, incorporated villages, and all other governmental incorporated units. The objective is to take concrete steps to switch fuel sources for municipal buildings to reduce greenhouse gases, stabilize costs in the face of volatile fossil fuel prices, and increase resilience at the municipal level. Many of Vermont’s municipal buildings are older and less efficient, and would greatly benefit from weatherization improvements and renewable fuel sources. Because the cost to make such improvements is prohibitive for many municipalities, local officials would welcome the assistance to make those shifts.
Other bills will address the use of agriculture and forest lands. Protecting and restoring natural lands is the best insurance for our communities to mitigate the effects of climate change. Functional natural lands store and sequester carbon and provide flood storage and drought resistance. We are taking up recommendations in the Climate Action Plan to protect functioning river corridors, allow old forests in the current use program, and adopt the goal of permanently protecting 30% of our lands and waters from development by 2030.
In addition, we are fortunate that significant resources from COVID-relief funds are available to support climate action in the next few years. We have committed $250 of these funds to climate policies, and more is coming from the federal infrastructure bill to support greening our state’s energy grid.
In addition to addressing climate change, these initiatives will create high-paying, skilled jobs as we weatherize homes and buildings in every corner of the state, reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels, help Vermonters to save money on heating and transportation, protect our natural and working lands, and guide development in a way that promotes vibrant town centers.. In all of this work we will prioritize those who are on the front lines of climate change – those most impacted by climate change or least able to adapt.