By Mike Yantachka
Expectations that the Legislature would take significant steps to address the climate change crisis this year have been high. Over the last 12 months Vermonters have joined people all over the world in climate demonstrations demanding that governments do something about climate change. After a month of testimony from businesses, utilities, farmers, conservationists, local and state government officials, scientists, and citizens, including youth activists, the House Energy & Technology Committee voted 7 to 2 to recommend passage of H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). This bill, if passed, will create a foundation and a roadmap for the actions that will reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The GWSA would elevate Vermont’s current “goals” for GHG emissions to required reductions with deadlines for action. The bill also requires action to enhance the climate resilience and preparedness of Vermont communities, including utilizing our natural and working lands to capture and store carbon. The goals have been in place since 2006 and currently do not require action to reduce emissions. Vermont’s GHG emissions are the highest per capita of any state in the Northeast, including New York. Our emissions are 13% higher than 1990 levels, while every other Northeastern state has seen a decline.
Massachusetts is in its second decade of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions through a Global Warming Solutions Act. Since enactment, Massachusetts has reduced its emissions by 25% while growing its economy by 25%. Reducing pollution, increasing efficiency, lowering costs, building resilience, and investing locally increases economic growth. H.688 aligns the resources of state government to focus on achieving these targets, including establishing a strategic plan to get the job done.
The bill sets specific greenhouse gas reduction requirements for Vermont: 26% below 2005 emissions levels by 2025 (in-line with the Paris Agreement), 40% below 1990 emissions levels by 2030 (in-line with Vt.’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan), and 80% below 1990 emissions levels by 2050 along with recommendations to get to net-zero emissions that year.
The bill also establishes a Climate Council led by state government agencies to develop and adopt a Climate Action Plan by 2021 with specific strategies to achieve these targets, as well as build climate resilience in Vermont communities. The work of the Council will be informed by required stakeholder and public input, with the Plan adhering to specific guidelines established in H.688. Guided by the Plan and the legislative intent in H.688, the Agency of Natural Resources must adopt regulations to reduce GHG emissions. Other agencies (i.e. VTrans, Agriculture, Commerce, etc.) may also adopt regulations. The bill does not mandate specific strategies but does ensure accountability with specific deadlines and the emissions reduction requirement. The Council is also required to make specific recommendations to the legislature regarding statutory changes and funding essential for success in meeting the emissions reductions and resiliency needs of the state.
Vermonters are already feeling the impacts of climate change in more severe and frequent extreme weather events. The bill requires putting in place adaptation measures that ensure that Vermont’s communities, infrastructure, and economy are better prepared and resilient and highlights the unique needs of rural areas and their vulnerable infrastructure, economies, and emergency preparedness. Delay in implementing climate solutions, whether strategies to reduce carbon emissions or enhance resiliency and preparedness, is costly. Climate solutions reduce risk and cost while increasing energy efficiency, supporting our natural and working lands, improving public health, and growing the economy.