The Word in the House 1/16/2020 - Back to Work

Names have power! Remembering someone’s name can give you an edge; forgetting a name I should know always makes me feel at a disadvantage.  In my first week back at the Statehouse I experienced both sides of that coin. By the end of the week, with a little help from a notepad and the legislative website, the names of most of my colleagues bubbled up from the six-month recess of my memory. We were all back to work picking up where we left off last May.

The first week was marked by Governor Scott’s State of the State address in which he laid out in general terms his agenda for the year. Lieutenant governor David Zuckerman presided over the combined House and Senate assembly. As Governor Scott began to speak with members of his cabinet, statewide elected officials, the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, and special guests in attendance, a group of climate activists began chanting from the gallery demanding that government act to fight climate change. They were peaceful but loud and succeeded in disrupting the occasion. To his credit, the Governor listened with the rest of us for about 5 minutes.  Then, with the chanting still continuing, he tried to continue but could not be heard. Lieutenant Governor Zuckerman then called for a recess and asked security to escort the protesters out of the gallery. No one was arrested, however, and the assembly reconvened after about 15 minutes.

“The state of the state is strong!” Scott began. He spoke of working together with the legislature respectfully while acknowledging our differences. He noted that Vermont had population declines in eleven of its fourteen counties, and also that the remote-worker brought 371 people into Vermont.  He talked about spending more money on after-school programs and after-school childcare without increasing property taxes. And he acknowledged that we need to work on climate change by continuing our transition to electric vehicles and buses and utilizing more battery storage in our electric grid. Achieving these objectives will depend a lot on the details in his budget address he will give later this month.

In the House Energy & Technology Committee we heard reports on work done by the Department of Public Service (DPS) and the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation (FPR) regarding telecommunications, energy, and carbon sequestration. We learned that several installations of battery storage, including one in Hinesburg, are helping to reduce demand during the evening peak.  DPS is also proposing changes in legislation to provide utilities more control over storage to improve reliability. We also learned that several communities have started to take advantage of legislation we passed last year that allows municipalities to form Communication Union Districts to bring high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved parts of Vermont. FPR Commissioner Michael Snyder outlined the role our forests can play in sequestering carbon with proper forest management practices. Then at the end of the week we began our consideration of the Global Warming Solutions Act, which, if passed, will require Vermont to meet specific greenhouse gas reduction goals between now and 2050.  Vermont will be required to actively plan and take steps to reduce emissions to at least 26% of 2005 levels by 2025, 40% by 2030, and 80% by 2050 in keeping with Vermont’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan and the 2016 Paris Agreement.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts. 

Legislative Report 1/9/2020 - Session Preview on Climate Action

The Vermont legislature convened in Montpelier this week for the second half of the biennium, i.e. the two-year legislative term between elections. Legislative work did not stop when the session adjourned in May. Off-session work includes constituent assistance as well as study committees, oversight committees and workgroups that meet either in official capacity or to prepare for the coming session. Some of our unfinished business from 2019 will be on the agenda early in the session, including increasing the minimum wage, establishing a paid family leave insurance program and creating a tax and regulate system for cannabis sales in Vermont. I’m also looking forward to working with my colleagues once more to take significant steps to address the climate crisis through Vermont’s energy policy.

Over the last two years more and more focus has been on what effects human consumption of fossil fuels has had on the global climate.  Extracting and burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas emit enormous amounts of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) which build up in the atmosphere and increase the average global temperature.  In recent years we have seen the effects in more intense hurricanes, heavier rainfall and flooding, more persistent heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in the west. Melting glaciers and icecaps have contributed to measurable sea level rise leading to “sunny day flooding” in some coastal communities. These effects drive costs higher for everyone, including Vermonters. Climate scientists have overwhelmingly concluded that we have only a limited amount of time to act decisively to limit global warming and its effects on our environment, health and economy.  Last year Vermonters have joined people all over the world in climate demonstrations demanding that governments do something about climate change.

Several years ago, a group of legislators from the House and Senate formed the Climate Solutions Caucus.  This group, now numbering more than 60 members, is committed to take meaningful steps to reduce Vermont’s contribution to the climate crisis.  The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 calls for a 50% reduction of GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 2028.  This goal was adopted by both the Shumlin and the Scott administrations. 

In contrast, however, Vermont’s emissions as measured by the Department of Environmental Conservation have instead risen by 16%. We have to bend that curve by addressing the biggest sources of GHGs in our economy: transportation and heating. This will help Vermonters save money by living in more efficient homes and driving more efficient vehicles.

While we took some steps in 2019 to help reduce Vermont’s emissions, including starting an EV incentive program, and increasing funding of low- and moderate-income residential weatherization, we know we have to do more. The Climate Caucus held several workgroup sessions over the summer to identify further steps we can take. Converting our renewable energy and energy transformation goals from the 2017 Comprehensive Energy Plan into statutory requirements by passing the Global Warming Solutions Act is the first step. To make our older housing stock more efficient for heating and cooling we’ll have to accelerate weatherization assistance to homeowners and landlords. Changing Efficiency Vermont’s mission to include using funds for moderate-income weatherization through the All Fuels Initiative will be part of the solution.

Transportation is the largest GHG contributor at 43% of emissions. We must continue to reduce transportation emissions by supporting EV purchases, electrification and expansion of mass transit options, expanding park-and-ride facilities, and promoting transportation alternatives like bicycling and walkways. We also know that Vermont can’t combat climate change alone. Alone our emissions are relatively small, but we have a responsibility to do our part. With the approval of Governor Scott, Vermont joined with 12 other eastern states from Maine to Virginia and the District of Columbia to consider a regional program to reduce GHG emissions from transportation.  This program, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), would be a “cap and invest” system.  Details of the design were released this December and the legislature and administration will be working together to integrate this effort into Vermont policy. Reducing emissions will not only benefit the climate but will also reduce carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and asthma aggravating particulates in the air we breathe.

I plan to write more about these actions in the future as they develop. I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.