In 2006, the State of Vermont enshrined strong carbon pollution reduction goals in statute. Unfortunately, despite that commitment, Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions are 13% above 1990 levels, when they are supposed to have been cut significantly below that by now.
You need only look to city halls, town greens and to increasingly crowded committee rooms in the State House to see that people’s patience is running out, as is the time to do something about this pressing problem. The world’s leading climate scientists now say we have until 2030 – 10 years – to reduce our collective consumption of fossil fuels by half or risk increasingly catastrophic consequences.
Thankfully, there is a legislative effort to move beyond rhetoric to concrete steps and strategies that will ensure we are doing our part to tackle the climate crisis. In late February, the Vermont House of Representatives voted 105 to 37 to support H.688, also known as the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act. Winning the support of Democrats, Republicans, independents and progressives, this bill turns our long-held climate pollution reduction goals into requirements.
Modeled after similar efforts in Massachusetts, Maine and New York, H.688 sets the stage for a strategic process and approach designed to serve Vermont’s unique needs and all Vermonters well.
Business as usual will not get us to 90% by 2050.
H.688 establishes a Climate Council consisting of secretaries and commissioners of key state agencies, as well as outside stakeholders with essential expertise, to come up with a strategic plan for climate action. The charge of the Climate Council is to recommend strategies and solutions to:
- reduce emissions,
- ensure a just transition, protecting low income and vulnerable Vermonters,
- help communities adapt in a warming world, and
- harness the strengths of our natural resource assets – our farmlands, forests and soils – for their many carbon-shaving, resilience-creating benefits.
H.688 provides a missing framework to ensure long overdue, swift progress. It also provides accountability, which has been missing for far too long. That accountability comes in the form of enabling citizens to bring suit against the state if they fail to meet certain milestones with a narrow remedy of required action.
It’s an essential foundation of strategic planning and accountability Vermont has long lacked. Thankfully, there are almost two decades worth of good work in this arena to set the state up for action – and success – to do this work well, including over a dozen plans, analyses, research and reports such as a comprehensive 2007 plan from Governor Jim Douglas’ Climate Action Commission1, the stakeholder-shaped Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan2 and, more recently, Governor Phil Scott’s own Climate Action Commission’s report3 which outlined over 50 strategies designed to put people to work and protect vulnerable Vermonters all while doing our part on climate change.
The reality is there is no more time to kick the can down the road. H.688 is a fundamental, essential bill that, strengthened by a strong House, the Senate should move swiftly to pass and Governor Scott should not hesitate to sign.
As Vermont Treasurer Beth Pearce made very clear in recent testimony supporting the bill, “Climate change is a threat to our way of life… and bottom line. Each year we delay, we have more risks and more costs.”
Delayed, insufficient action is already taking a real toll on Vermonters lives and pocketbooks. Whether that comes in the form of increased public health costs and complications from potentially debilitating tick-borne Lyme disease. Whether that comes from paying for growing numbers of storm-ravaged roads, bridges, grid infrastructure and more. (Last year’s intense Halloween rain storm, for example, racked up over a $6 million price tag for Vermonters to pay.) Or whether it comes in the form of diminished quality of life,such as, for me, losing community gems like the Morse Farm Ski Touring Center, which shuttered its ski operations in 2018 noting, “Climate change has not been our friend.”
The reality is we have no more time to waste, and so many good reasons to act, including the tremendous job-creating, economic benefits of unshackling ourselves from fossil fuels.
Vermont must finally do our part to help combat the intensifying climate crisis by holding ourselves accountable to pollution-reduction progress. H.688 sets the strategic course to do this essential work well.
Johanna Miller is the Energy & Climate Program Director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council and served on Governor Scott’s Climate Action Commission. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get Engaged and Informed:
You can help! Call or email your Senator and Governor Phil Scott this March and April and urge their support for H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act.
- Leave a message for your Senator at the Legislature’s Sargent of Arms office, Tuesday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by calling 802-828-2228.
- Leave a message for Governor Phil Scott at 802-828-3333.
- Get timely updates on H.688 and other climate and energy priorities by signing up for VNRC’s newsletter at www.vnrc.org.