The Word in the House 1/21/2015 - Setting the Stage for Environmental Action

Many observers were disappointed when Governor Shumlin's inaugural speech barely mentioned the three issues that were foremost in Vermonters' minds in 2014: property taxes, education spending and health care. Instead, his inaugural speech focused primarily on the environment. He began by laying out his "agenda for progress" emphasizing the positive accomplishments in the growth of the renewable energy industry in Vermont with an accompanying 15,000 new jobs, "pioneering the development and deployment of locally generated, low carbon energy, creating jobs and putting money in Vermonter’s pockets while we do it.” He noted that while neighboring New England states are seeing double-digit increases in electric rates, Green Mountain Power, Vermont's largest utility has reduced rates by more than 2%. He is proposing a new Energy Innovation Program (EIP) to replace the SPEED (Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development) program which was responsible for the strong growth of Vermont's renewable energy industry and which expires in 2017. If implemented, the EIP is projected to: Create over 1,000 new jobs; Save Vermonters hundreds of millions of dollars on their energy bills; and Cut greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 15 million metric tons, nearly a quarter of the reduction needed for Vermont to be on track to meet its 2050 climate goal. To this end the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee on which I serve will be taking up a bill this week to create the new renewable energy standard for the future.

The second part of his agenda focused on the cleanup of Vermont's waterways, especially Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain is a critical part of our economy and its protection is vital to keeping Vermont the place we know, enjoy and love. We all know of the problems with blue-green algae blooms in the northern part of the lake and in Lake Memphremagog. This is due to excess phosphorus loading that originates primarily as a result of runoff from farms and impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots. Together these sources are responsible for 70% of the phosphorus that flows into Lake Champlain from its streams and tributaries. The EPA has put Vermont on notice that it is in violation of clean water standards and we have to move now to clean it up. As Governor Shumlin said in his speech, "If we don't do it, it will be done to us." The Administration will work to implement the Lake Champlain restoration plan submitted to the EPA last spring, the most comprehensive and strategic effort yet undertaken by Vermont to protect and restore the state’s waters. It will include assistance to farmers and municipalities as well as provide strong regulatory enforcement. The Natural Resources and Energy Committee will be working in tandem with the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee and the Agriculture and Forestry Committee to address this issue.

A week after his inaugural address, Governor Shumlin delivered his budget address and did put a spotlight on property taxes, education spending and health care. In addition to a balanced budget that closes a $94 million budget gap, the Governor laid out the rest of his aggressive agenda that includes proposals to cut in half the Medicaid cost shift, reduce private health insurance premiums, help get school spending under control, eliminate the cost of an associate’s degree for some Vermont students to provide Vermont employers a pipeline of skilled workers, and increase economic development incentives. I plan to address this part of his agenda in a future article.