Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Vermont’s 2024 Environmental Common Agenda

Lauren Hierl

Over the past year, Vermonters have experienced firsthand the growing threats to our environment and communities posed by the climate crisis, including devastating flooding, water polluted by runoff, dangerous blue-green algae blooms, and poor air quality due to distant wildfires. The urgency for climate action continues to build – and Vermont is fortunate to have a strong group of environmental organizations working together to advocate for necessary solutions.

At the start of each legislative session, Vermont Conservation Voters (VCV) publishes the Vermont Environmental Common Agenda. The agenda represents the priorities of a range of organizations across Vermont working on matters affecting our shared natural resources, the character of our communities, and public health. With the start of the 2024 legislative session in early January, VCV is proud to release this year’s Environmental Common Agenda alongside 18 partner organizations. This document highlights this year’s high priority legislation needed to address the complex challenges our state is facing.

Ensuring our communities are safer from the impacts of climate-induced flooding is top of mind for legislators, advocates, and community members who know how damaging these events have been. This year’s Common Agenda proposes a suite of policies that can support Vermont in becoming more resilient to floods. We must give rivers room to meander by keeping river corridors free from new development, and we must establish a policy to ensure Vermont is protecting and restoring wetlands, as they are a nature-based solution to flooding. Wetlands store, filter and purify our water, and provide habitat for plants and animals. Furthermore, by shoring up the safety and oversight of Vermont’s dams, and removing those that serve no purpose, we can protect communities downstream during flood events.

Continuing to reduce our carbon pollution and help Vermonters access affordable, clean energy remains a priority as the state continues to march toward the necessary and ambitious emissions reduction requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act. This year’s Common Agenda outlines essential reforms to modernize Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES), and to help ensure that Vermont is swiftly and comprehensively transitioning to locally generated, new renewable energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Implementation of climate mitigation and resilience strategies comes at a cost. By holding the largest fossil fuel companies accountable, and by establishing funding structures to leverage state and federal funds, we believe Vermont can secure revenue streams to invest in these critical initiatives. Furthermore, as transportation remains Vermont’s largest source of carbon pollution, we need to continue to invest in clean transportation solutions such as electric vehicles, transit and micro-transit, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The Legislature should also explore pathways for Vermont to participate in cap-and-invest or similar regulatory programs to build a statewide transportation system that is more cost-effective, multi-modal and accessible to all Vermonters.

Flooded farmland in Cambridge, VT after the July 2023 flooding. (Greta Hasler)

We also know that in addition to the climate crisis, Vermont is experiencing a housing crisis. Our central land use and development law, Act 250, must be updated to promote the development of affordable, smart-growth housing solutions that help alleviate the housing shortage while maintaining the protection of our vital natural resources. We can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of local participation, better integrate modern considerations in development review processes, and improve the alignment of local and regional planning goals. The Legislature has been considering how to modernize Act 250 for a number of years and it is time to act.

Finally, this year’s Common Agenda identifies steps the Legislature must take to reduce Vermonters’ exposure to toxic chemicals, implement the state’s Environmental Justice Law, finish the work of updating the Bottle Bill, and ensure a healthy democracy for all. These are all crucial priorities to keeping our communities safe, healthy, and equitably engaged.

While we recognize that our state faces immense and immediate challenges, and that the Legislature has an enormous number of competing priorities to address, we are hopeful that this collaboratively-produced Environmental Common Agenda can provide a blueprint for State House action that makes an impact. This agenda outlines clear and actionable steps that Vermont can take this year to address climate change, build more smart growth housing, protect our natural resources, shore up our democracy, and provide a healthy future for all Vermonters. We will hold the Legislature accountable to these actions and continuing our work on behalf of our communities and environment.

Lauren Hierl is executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters and has been an environmental advocate for over two decades. She is currently serving her third term as a Montpelier City Councilor.

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