The Vermont Climate Council will soon present a set of recommended strategies to reduce Vermont’s carbon emissions and make our communities more climate resilient.
It’s been a long time coming. After all, much of the world is on fire, or like Vermont, dealing with floods and droughts. And a recent study published in the journal Science, says our kids and grand-kids will have it even worse. An average six-year-old will live through, or perhaps we should say hopefully, survive, three times as many climate disasters. Twice as many wildfires, three times more floods, more crop failures, more droughts, cyclones. So, I must agree with those students and other young people who are raising their voices, along with climate scientists around the world, to demand action now.
Recognizing the need for a broad-based response to this crisis the legislature created the Climate Council, as part of the Global Warming Solutions Act bringing together environmentalists, business leaders, state officials and others charged with creating an ambitious plan to dramatically lower our carbon emissions.
But, as we move forward with our planning we have also got to stop any backsliding. Remember, Governor Scott vetoed the Global Warming Solutions Act, claiming it gives too much power to citizens. Now the Climate Council is headed by his Secretary of Administration and includes several of the administration’s agency heads and commissioners.
Recently the state Public Utilities Commission overruled local officials and denied a permit for a solar farm, based on esthetics, overriding local decision-makers and the state’s own esthetics expert. A decision that flies in the face of all the evidence that Vermont needs to dramatically increase our development of instate renewables.
The same Utilities Commission is considering a petition from Global Foundries, Vermont’s largest electricity consumer, to allow it to become its own utility. Owned by the sovereign wealth fund of the United Arab Emirates, and now owner of the Essex Junction IBM plant, Global Foundries would be free to pursue its own goals, needs and standards and exempt from Vermont’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, including new standards brought forward by the Climate Council. Allowing our largest energy user to opt out of our statewide renewable and energy efficiency goals would be a mistake and dangerous precedent. But, the Scott Administration has signed a letter of intent, allowing Global Foundries to do just that. We need to make a real commitment to go 100% renewables when it comes to electricity, following the example of Washington Electric Coop and others. Relying on instate renewables as much as possible and getting a lift from the jobs it will bring. But everyone must be in on this effort, including Global Foundries.
We must also tackle emissions from transportation and home heating and cooling sectors that are responsible for most of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve started to up our investments in home and building retrofits, another job creator. We must now become a leader in helping Vermonters get out of gasoline powered cars and into electric vehicles.
California is set to ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035 and even more importantly, General Motors and Ford will be phasing out gas powered cars in favor of electric vehicles. The industry message is clear. Less clear is how we will make sure Vermonters have the support, incentives, and infrastructure to meet our goal of affordable electric vehicles.
And we must recognize and respond to the fact that that it is lower income and BIPOC Vermonters who suffer most from climate disasters, as evidenced by the areas hardest hit by tropical storm Irene.
These choices and more now rest with the Climate Council but they will bring their proposals to the legislature in January.
Meeting our climate goals will no doubt be very challenging, but it is doable, and it is necessary. And we’ve proven ourselves Vermont Strong in recovering from Irene as with other challenges. As legislators we must commit to crafting policies that reflect and if necessary, strengthen those Climate Council recommendations and take the bold actions this crisis demands.