Briglin: Vermont has highest GHG emissions in New England

by Tim Briglin (D-Thetford Center) Chair of the House Energy & Technology Committee Building more resilient communities and transitioning to locally-sourced clean energy isn’t just good climate policy, it’s good economic policy. Vermont has made strides toward a green energy economy, but there’s much more to do. The Global Warming Solutions Act holds our state accountable to achieving targeted greenhouse gas emission reductions, supporting rural resilience to climate change, and ensuring that the benefits of a clean energy economy are broadly shared.

Climate change is not an abstract risk that may affect us in the future, it is impacting us today. We’re already encountering harsher storms, more frequent flooding, and extreme temperatures. The effects of climate change will only increase in severity in the next 30 years – more power outages, more floods, more heatwaves, more ticks. Yet Vermont has no comprehensive plan to protect our most vulnerable citizens from what is coming our way. The legislature and Governor have set goals, but our system lacks accountability making it too easy to defer serious climate action.

Vermont has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the Northeast, and we’re the only state whose emissions have increased in the last 30 years. How can our neighboring states be so far ahead of us? Planning and accountability. Massachusetts passed a law over a decade ago mandating less greenhouse gas pollution. What has it gotten them? A 25 percent reduction in emissions, a more efficient energy system, and a 25 percent larger economy. Connecticut has a Global Warming Solutions Act. So do Maine and New York. Rhode Island’s governor is pressing for action, and even New Hampshire has a bill under consideration in its legislature.

Vermonters expect us to set ambitious targets, lay out a strategy to accomplish them, and then be accountable for achieving results. When President Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement, Governor Scott partnered Vermont with 24 other states forming the U.S. Climate Alliance to attain the 2025 climate goals of the Paris treaty. In spite of the hope that this very public signal would inspire more comprehensive climate action, not enough has been done.

The Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688) now before the Vermont legislature requires greenhouse gas reductions consistent with Governor Scott’s Paris Agreement promise. Emissions must be 40 percent lower than 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent lower by 2050, in-line with Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan. These reduction requirements would be similar to other Northeastern states.

Of course, a vision without a plan is a hallucination. The Global Warming Solutions Act compels State agencies and community experts to establish the roadmap to accomplish these benchmarks. By setting specific timelines for action, our economy will benefit by transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward more local energy production. Our communities will become more resilient protecting our most vulnerable citizens from harsher climate.

We know that we must reduce our midcentury greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% or risk a planet that is uninhabitable. We know that changing climate patterns put Vermont at risk for more frequent catastrophic weather events for which we’re unprepared. We know that every year fossil fuel purchases drain $1.5 billion from Vermont’s economy enriching faraway oil and gas corporations. And we know that a green energy economy would keep more of our wealth at home, working for us.

There’s an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today. The best time to deal with climate change was 20 years ago. Today, it’s time for Vermont to take action on the climate emergency. Let’s pass the Global Warming Solutions Act to build the strong, healthy economy we need for the 21st century.