Legislators hold climate policy forum in Midd
MIDDLEBURY — Members of the Vermont Legislature’s Climate Solutions Caucus are organizing a series of climate policy forums all over the state to share their legislative priorities for 2020 and bring more Vermonters into the climate conversation.
On a snowy Thursday evening, six caucus members convened at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Middlebury to share their work.
“Climate work is all improvised on some level,” said Sen. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington). “Nobody has shown us what to do. We have snippets all around the world that we can draw from, and some right here in Vermont, but nobody has offered us a neat package of legislation and said ‘do this and you’re good.’”
The caucus is working on some key pieces of legislation, however, including the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which takes the emissions reduction goals from the 2015 Paris Agreement and puts them into Vermont law, Pearson said.
The Paris Agreement outlines a scientific and regulatory framework for preventing global average temperatures from reaching 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which scientists say would lead to catastrophic and irreversible climate disruption.
Pearson noted that last week, after the Trump Administration announced that it had begun the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and 24 other state governors pledged to uphold the agreement anyway.
According to the current draft of the GWSA, Vermonters would have the right to sue the state if it falls down on its obligation, Pearson noted.
“We need to mean this if we’re going to accomplish it.”
Pearson was joined by local legislators Sen. Chris Bray (D-Bristol), Rep. Mari Cordes (D-Lincoln), Rep. Caleb Elder (D-Starksboro), Rep. Robin Scheu (D-Middlebury) and Rep. Amy Sheldon (D-Middlebury).
Scheu outlined the caucus’s overarching values and principles:
• The cost burdens of a shift to a climate economy need to sit with those who have the greatest ability to pay.
• Climate refugees are welcome, regardless of country of origin or color of skin.
• We strive to represent all voices in our solutions, especially those who are most impacted.
• We examine the secondary and tertiary effects of our policies.
• Our polices are data-driven and grounded in science.
• Solutions drive improved jobs and sustainable economic growth.
• Any new legislation we propose strives at a minimum to do no harm.
• Vermonters are supported as they transition to new employment or living patterns as a result of what we’re trying to do.
The caucus worked through the summer to identify several legislative priorities, explained Cordes, who sits on the caucus’s communications workgroup. Those priorities include:
• building efficiency
• the green economy
• regional cooperation
• land use/resilience
• advancing renewable energy generation
• accountability in budgeting and revenue
A number of caucus workgroups have been established to address these respective issues.
Lawmakers also spoke about the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional collaboration of 12 Northeast and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia that seeks to improve transportation, develop a clean energy economy and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” said Bray, who noted the 80-plus-member Climate Solutions Caucus was the largest caucus he’s seen in his 12 years in the Legislature.
But unifying vastly different constituencies continues to be a challenge, he said.
During a discussion about carbon pricing Bray recalled his experience last spring trying to pass the weatherization bill that eventually became Act 62.
The first version of that bill contained a two-cents-per gallon tax increase on heating fuel, which was intended to raise $4 million to shorten the 52-year waiting list for low-income weatherization, Bray said. That increase was vehemently opposed by Gov. Scott and others, and was eventually omitted.
Ironically, Bray pointed out, “While we were debating that two-cents increase, every weekend, when I was home from Montpelier, I’d fill up at the gas station at Maple Fields, right over there. And every week (the price of gas) went up. For five weeks in a row it went up seven cents (each time). No one said a peep about the 35-cent increase.”
If those gas prices hold, Bray continued, Vermonters will be paying in the neighborhood of $133 million more for gasoline in the coming year — for the same product they were buying last year. Nearly every penny of that will leave the state.
“But we could have raised $4 million for weatherization, almost every penny of which would have stayed in Vermont.”
The Legislature, he concluded, will need citizens’ help to sort out such contentious issues as carbon pricing.
The Vermont Climate Solutions Caucus has scheduled 15 such presentations in towns across the state, including one in Vergennes on Nov. 22 and one in Bristol on Dec. 2.
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Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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