Twelve States and DC Stand Ready to Fight Climate Change
Transportation and heating emissions found to cause the 94.3% rise in VT’s GHG increase over 1990 levels
Tim Ashe, VT State Senator
Many Vermonters were surprised and rightly concerned when the Department of Environmental Conservation issued its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Inventory last June, and they learned that Vermont’s combined GHG emissions had increased 16% since1990 levels.
How could this have happened? Hasn’t Vermont been a national leader in electrical efficiency and in the deployment of renewable electric power generation?
Vermont has indeed made tremendous inroads in terms of addressing the GHG emissions from the generation and use of electricity, with 2015 levels more than 8% below 1990 levels. But while most climate change discussions in Montpelier and beyond the last twenty years centered on the electric sector, that is not where most of our emissions are occurring. As of 2015, the electric sector accounts for just 10% of Vermont’s GHG emissions.
So, what is causing Vermont’s emissions to rise?
Transportation and heating emissions are Vermont’s two most significant sources of GHG emissions, representing 43.3% and 27.8% respectively of Vermont’s total emissions. And more troubling, they account for 94.3% of the increase in Vermont’s emissions over 1990 levels!
Put simply, to fight climate change, the most important areas in which Vermont must act are transportation and heating. This doesn’t mean we cease efforts to promote electric efficiency and to deploy more renewable power. Those continue to be essential since addressing transportation and heating emissions will require us to use more electricity, and we must insist that the electric power be clean. But transportation and heating emissions must receive priority emphasis. For the rest of this piece, I’ll address the most promising development on the transportation front.
How will Vermont reduce transportation emissions?
Many strategies will need to be deployed, but the most significant opportunity before us is the Transportation and Climate Initiative.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) is a regional compact being designed by twelve states and the District of Columbia to create a “cap-and-invest” transportation emissions program. In the simplest terms, this regional compact would (1) set a cap on the amount of transportation emissions that will be allowed, (2) auction the rights to sell the fuel that causes the allowed level of emissions, and then (3) distribute funds from the auction to each state to re-invest in a cleaner transportation system. The funds could be used to improve public transit options, build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure and incentivize electric vehicle purchases, develop pedestrian and bike corridors, and other uses that reduce GHG emissions.
Under TCI, each year the allowable emissions amount would decrease, effectively guaranteeing that transportation emissions will go down in Vermont and all the signatory states.
TCI is being negotiated as I write this. Vermont is represented at the table by officials from our Agencies of Transportation and Natural Resources. They’re joined by officials from Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.
The best place to learn more details about how TCI would work and which terms are being negotiated is the “Framework for a Draft Regional Policy Proposal” that was released a month ago. It can be found at http://bit.ly/draft-framework.
Major elements being discussed at the negotiating table include:
- Equity – TCI must be designed in a way that supports rural and urban communities and benefits people of all income levels.
- Applicability – The states must agree upon which transportation fuels will be subject to the emissions cap.
- Compliance, enforcement, and monitoring – Once an emissions cap is set, TCI’s administration must be transparent and straightforward.
- Auction process and distribution of proceeds – Vermont will not receive the same distribution as, say, New York, but the formula for distributing funds must be fair and provide Vermont with sufficient funds to re-invest in cleaner transportation.
Once these details are finalized in December, they’ll be made public. Each state will then make a decision in February or March regarding whether to join the TCI compact.
It would obviously be premature to say “let’s sign” until we see the agreement that comes forward, but I am optimistic.
I am optimistic because this is a systemic emissions reduction which exceeds any one individual’s ability to effect change.
I am optimistic because TCI is modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, entered into by Governor Douglas more than a decade ago, that has successfully reduced CO2 emissions from electric generation.
And finally, I’m optimistic because the TCI regional cap-and-invest model means that as Vermont adopts a tool to guarantee transportation emissions reductions, so also will some of the most populous states in America.
Tim Ashe is the President of the Vermont State Senate and resides in Burlington. During his career in affordable housing, he developed two solar projects, coordinated weatherization projects for 152 apartments, and achieved Enterprise Green Communities certification for two new senior housing facilities. He can be reached at email@example.com.