Federal climate bill expected to further boost Vt. efforts

Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 4:54 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Federal researchers say greenhouse gases reached new highs last year. The new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration comes on the heels of President Biden’s major climate bill that aims to invest $369 billion, and Vermont is slated to get a cut of the pie.

Vermont’s top three greenhouse gas emitting sectors -- transportation, building and thermal, and agriculture -- are all directly addressed in the Inflation Reduction Act. Now, local officials say it’s about getting the state into a position to take the best advantage of that funding.

“This is a down-payment toward that transition,” said Jon Erickson, a professor of sustainability science and policy at the University of Vermont. He says it will help move the country toward a renewable energy-centered economy. “The federal government helping New England move in an inevitable direction.”

Erickson says there are already 645,000 people working in the regions energy sector, that’s New England and New York combined, and that the law will bolster those jobs long-term, providing employment for current UVM and other students in clean energy jobs.

“Vermont is really well positioned to take advantage of this funding,” said Jane Lazorchak with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and director of the state’s new Climate Action Office. She says we don’t know exactly how big a slice of the funding pie we will get but we do know what programs it will be directed to. “Transportation makes up 40% of Vermont’s emissions,” Lazorchak said.

To cut that, incentive programs around electric vehicles are taking center stage. The Act will increase offers for EV incentives, including a $4,000 tax credit for lower and middle-income Vermonters to purchase a used vehicle and continued $7,500 tax credits for a new EV.

In the building and thermal sector, which makes up about one-third of the state’s emissions, there will continue to be funding for home efficiency and weatherization. “It’s a much harder sector to think about how we transform,” Lazorchak said.

Low-income Vermonters will have the opportunity to have 100% of the costs covered to create more energy-efficient homes. Moderate-income Vermonters will also continue to have access to tax credits on projects including heating pumps, solar panels, or electric appliances.

The total pot of money for the ag sector nationally is $20 billion, including funding for “climate-smart agricultural practices.” Lazorchak says it’s about cutting emissions while also helping the working landscape’s ability to aid in the fight against climate change. There’s also money to track and measure carbon emissions, something Vermont is already diving into in the Payment for Ecosystem Services and Soil Health Working Group.

Lazorchak says the state is already headed in the right direction but that the new funding will provide a much-needed boost. “This gives us greater confidence that we will be able to meet our climate goals,” she said.

Erickson agrees but also doesn’t want the state to lose sight of the fact that it’s still only a first step. “Does it go fast enough, far enough -- no. Hopefully, this will stimulate the true momentum that we need,” he said.