BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As Vermont works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet climate goals, a big part of that involves electrifying the transportation sector. While the new infrastructure package approved by Congress is expected to be transformational, the state will also have to put up some green to go green.
On one of the warmest days of the new year so far, climate activists urged lawmakers to take action. “A whole gamut of environmental and conservation issues around climate change,” said Robb Kidd with the Sierra Club.
A large part of reducing emissions involves making big investments in electrification, home heating, and transportation. The new federal infrastructure package will bring over $2 billion to Vermont to transform communities and cut carbon emissions. But to leverage those dollars, Vermont will have to match some of those funds.
“We will have, at a minimum, a $40 million gap. Sixty million if some action doesn’t happen this year,” said Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes.
Lawmakers say Vermont’s Transportation Fund has had structural deficiencies for years. But with more people than ever now driving fuel-efficient cars and switching to electric, the state’s 30 cent gas tax has become an obsolete funding mechanism. “We are going to have to address that systemically going forward,” said Vtrans’ Michele Boomhower.
The fund pays for roads, bridges, sidewalks, and bike paths. In addition to the gas tax, revenue comes from other sources including the purchase and use tax. Now, a key committee has been coming up with ways to bridge that gap for EVs and plug-in hybrids. “We are looking at the low-technology implementation by doing an odometer reading once a year, having a vendor work with DMV to collect information and do the billing process,” Boomhower said.
Boomhower says Vermont would not collect EV revenues from out of state. She also says the state is working on placing fast EV chargers within a mile of every interstate interchange. But she says any proposal would come in a bill next year. “We’re here to work together to solve this because we’re here to serve all Vermonters and Vermont,” Lanpher said.
Outside the Statehouse, Kidd says he’s encouraged by what he’s seeing in the Legislature but says policymakers can always go further and do it without negatively impacting marginalized communities. “We need to reduce our carbon emissions but we need to make sure that people on limited incomes can transition to the new way,” he said.
He says switching to EVs is just one component of the solution and needs to go hand in hand with strengthening public transit and making sure people can live and work in communities.
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