Vermont lawmakers outline climate agenda

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 6:17 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers will head back to Montpelier in less than two months for the start of a new legislative biennium, and addressing climate change is expected to be a big focus. Key lawmakers on Thursday presented their climate agenda.

This week’s election was a big win for Vermont Democrats, many of whom have championed climate change as a core issue.

“One of the things this race has shown us is that we can be more assertive and we can be bolder in the asks that we have going into this 2023 session,” said Senator-elect Becca White, D-Windsor County.

The upcoming session will draw dozens of new lawmakers to the Statehouse, and new climate legislation. Governor Phil Scott vetoed a sweeping thermal emission bill last year called the clean heat standard that would have created a fuel credit marketplace aimed at incentivizing more eco-friendly ways of heating. Lawmakers failed to override Scott’s veto by one vote.

With their new supermajority, the General Assembly in January is planning to take another go at the bill. Lawmakers say instead of pouring more money into fossil fuels, it can be funneled to climate initiatives that will pay dividends. “Imagine if we were able to take that $1.5 billion and figure out policies to reinvest it in our families, our businesses, and our schools here in Vermont,” said Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins, D-Burlington.

They will also look at other initiatives including changes to the Renewable Energy Standard and Act 250 reform -- all aimed at meeting the state’s carbon reduction requirements under the Global Warming Solutions Act.

But Democrats acknowledge Vermont can’t do it alone. The Transportation and Climate Initiative is a regional cap and trade program that sets limits on transportation-related carbon emissions. “We’re needing now to look more comprehensively and regionally - how do we crack this nut, because it really is beyond the Vermont borders,” Stebbins said.

The multistate agreement crumbled last year, but with a new Democratic governor in Massachusetts, officials say there is a new opportunity to make it happen.

But some question the cost of a climate agenda. “This is an argument about energy realism,” said Meg Hansen with the Ethan Allen Institute, a conservative think tank. She says mandated climate regulations will have a negative financial impact on many Vermonters. “Vermont families in the middle class that are not getting the low-income subsidies but are not wealthy. That minority -- that’s who I’m looking at, and I just don’t see a solution for them.”

Lawmakers say affordability is also one of their top concerns, but stress that as climate change intensifies, it disproportionally affects low-income Vermonters. “The most vulnerable people are going to be left behind when we talk about climate change if we don’t include them in the solutions,” White said.

And even though a lot of the action will happen at the Statehouse, environmental groups and lawmakers are hosting a series of events in the coming weeks to keep people up to date and explain the coming attractions.

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