Advocates push Vt. lawmakers to focus on climate action

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 5:42 PM EST
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With the Vermont legislative session barely a week old, the debate around how best to deal with climate change has taken center stage, with administration officials and activists at odds.

A coalition of 30 nonprofit groups and public health experts Tuesday urged lawmakers to take action on climate change by passing sweeping reforms to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, switch over to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and modernize the state's energy efficiency utilities.

The coalition is pushing for Vermont to be part of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI. The regional collaboration among a dozen states would place a cap on emissions from fuel providers and invest the revenue in cleaner transportation options.

Data shows that Vermont's transportation sector is responsible for about 40 percent of the climate changing greenhouse gasses.

Graham Turk is a big fan of electric vehicles like his Nissan Leaf and promotes EVs across Vermont. He works for Green Mountain Power, which has not taking a position on the TCI.

"The rough equivalent you pay for electricity is about $1.20 for a gallon of gas. So, almost 50 percent savings out of the gate," Turk said.

The idea of the TCI is to invest revenue in public transportation and incentives so drivers such like Turk can get behind the wheel of an EV.

Governor Phil Scott and some lawmakers are concerned about the proposal's effect on low income Vermonters, saying it will raise the price of a gallon of gas about four-cents.

Though Scott is opposed to the TCI as is, the Agency of Natural Resources is listening to Vermonters to see where they want the money invested, so that the TCI can help low-income Vermonters as well.

"We've heard everything from support to broadband to support for electric buses and more public transit. I think there's a number of options" said ANR Deputy Secretary Peter Walke.

Vermont housing advocates supporting action say low-income people will feel the effects of climate change the most because they live in the most vulnerable homes and risk-prone locations.

"It's like being unwilling to call the fire department when your house is on fire because you're scared your taxes will go up," said Paul Burns with VPIRG.

The state is taking public comment on the TCI until the end of February. After that, depending on whether Vermont and 11 other states decide to sign on the TCI could be implemented by 2022.

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