The Readers Write

Vermont’s new climate agreements will boost our battle against climate disruption

When Vermonters see a problem, we work to fix it. That is why earlier this year Vermont signed onto two historic climate agreements which will strengthen our state’s resolve to combat carbon pollution and transition to a new clean energy economy.

In April, Governor Shumlin joined leaders from around the world to sign California’s bold “Under Two Memorandum of Understanding.”  This agreement aligns our goals to reduce carbon pollution to the level of seriousness of the climate crisis. Scientists broadly agree that we must not increase global temperature more than two degrees centigrade to avoid devastating climate impacts for our communities and our economies. Under this MOU, we are committing to the level of emissions reductions needed across the globe to do just that.

In June, Vermont again joined an international effort to accelerate the response to climate change.  The first-ever Pan-American Climate Change Agreement issued a united call from mayors, governors and provincial leaders from Brazil to Canada to fight carbon pollution.  The agreement points to specific steps we need to take, such as supporting putting a price on carbon, and public reporting of progress towards lowering emissions.

These agreements can seem far removed from our day to day lives, and yet they are so important. They set a high bar for upcoming negotiations this December, when world leaders will gather in Paris for the next United Nations “Conference of the Parties,” and attempt to reach consensus on new global greenhouse gas reduction goals.

These agreements also answer questions about Vermont’s role.  We are a small state – our emissions are a drop in the bucket compared to others– but we are going to lead the transformation to a new energy economy precisely because of that. Our size means we can get things done here, and we can show other states and nations what’s possible.

Vermont’s utilities like Green Mountain Power, Washington Electric Cooperative, Burlington Electric, and others are at the cutting edge of a snowballing energy transformation.  They are working with their customers to help them make investments that save money, reduce energy use and rely more on home grown energy from the sun and wind and even the manure from Vermont farms.

They are also helping to install electric charging infrastructure in downtowns, apartment buildings, homes and workplaces so that Vermonters can choose to drive electric cars with absolute confidence. Our utilities are making sure that we will be ready a year from now, when 200 mile range electric vehicles enter the national auto market.

Vermonters across the state are also at the forefront of this energy revolution. Whether we’re putting solar on our rooftops, participating in community solar projects to power our homes and businesses, or installing efficient electric heat pumps and state-of the-art wood pellet stoves to heat our homes, Vermonters are leading in greening our energy economy.

The change is remarkable.  We have reduced Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions back to the level of 1990, and our energy transformation is creating new jobs every month. Vermont had more solar jobs per capita than any state in the nation in 2013.  We should pat ourselves on the back for this impressive progress.

At the same time, we must recognize that we have a great deal more work to do.  To meet our new climate goals we still need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 75% to 85% from their current levels.

The United Nation’s weather agency just announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record.  This may be hard to imagine, given the artic temperatures we lived through last February, but patterns in the air currents that caused these bone chilling temperatures in New England are thought by many climate scientists to be closely linked to record warming, as are the record rains we experienced this June. That is why it is so important that we join with nations and states across our region and around the world to do our part to make the world safe and prosperous for our children and grandchildren.

Deb Markowitz, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources

 

One Response to "The Readers Write"

  1. John Schold   August 14, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    I agree with VANR Secretary Markowitz’s comments in her August 13th letter that Vermont’s carbon emissions are a “drop in the bucket”. It’s fairly obvious then that if Vermont eliminated 100% of its carbon emissions we would not move the needle (or thermometer) one bit. Emission reductions just in Vermont will have no perceptible impact on climate change but they may hurt our local economy if accomplished the wrong way. To be meaningful and positive, any action on carbon emissions requires real international cooperation and broad based commitment. It’s commendable that Vermont is making efforts to lead other states (and countries) in that direction. We should continue to do so. However, Vermont is only a leader if someone is following us. Only four states have signed up to the California “Under2MOU” the secretary referred to. We should be careful about implementing policies that will only apply in Vermont and which will just make energy more expensive here compared to other states. If people and businesses move out of the state we will have succeeded in reducing our carbon emissions here in Vermont. But if our policies just drove them to another state (or perhaps to China or elsewhere), then the net result will be fewer jobs and tax revenue for Vermont and no actual reduction in overall global greenhouse gases at all-zero net reduction. We’re just driving the emissions to another location. We will meet our state’s emissions goal, but at what cost and what benefit toward fixing the real problem of climate change.

    Everyone should be able to support improving energy efficiency and conservation and it would be great for Vermont to be a leader in energy innovation and green jobs, so why not focus state support and encouragement on that side of the equation? Focus on innovating away from carbon instead of penalizing and taxing people (that’s what the secretary means by “putting a price on carbon”). No doubt we are creating some jobs in solar and renewable energy, but we should also acknowledge that we may be missing out on other jobs and economic development because energy costs are already considerably higher in Vermont than elsewhere (along with higher property taxes, housing and cost of living generally). This is an important factor for people considering whether it makes sense to start a new business or expand or relocate a business in Vermont. According to the US Department of Energy (www.eia.gov), Vermonters already pay the 8th highest electricity rates in the country (over 35% higher than the national average) and 11th highest natural gas rates. Common sense suggests we should not make some of the highest energy costs in the country even higher if the result is going to be lower net incomes for Vermonters, fewer jobs and tax revenues for Vermont and no net benefit toward the stated goal of reducing climate change. Vermont has plenty of low income and fixed income residents facing high utility bills, young people leaving the state for lack of opportunities, and businesses taking a pass on Vermont due to its high costs. I hope we will not let good intentions on climate change lead to misguided policies that harm the economy and make life for all Vermonters more expensive while making no meaningful difference on climate.

    Reply

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