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Vermont just adopted a Climate Action Plan. Here's how it says we should reduce emissions.

Mt.-Pisgah-Lake-Willoughby-State-Forest-From-Summit-of-Bartlett-Mountain-VPR-giles-20200214.JPG
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
On Wednesday, Vermont's Climate Council adopted an initial Climate Action Plan that details how Vermont will reduce emissions to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act through 2030.

On Wednesday, Vermont adopted the state’s first ever Climate Action Plan. Written by the Climate Council — a non-elected body made up of Legislative appointees and members of the Scott administration — the plan is supposed to detail how Vermont will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act and make deeper investments to take on one of the biggest threats to the state's economy and to humanity.

Passed in 2020, the law requires Vermont reduce emissions to:

  • 26% below 2005 levels by 2025
  • 40% below 1990 levels by 2030
  • 80% below 1990 levels by 2050

The document focuses on how the state can meet the requirements for the first decade — while building programs and gathering the funds needed to stay on track for 2050.

More from VPR: Reporter debrief: Vermont's new climate assessment finds the state is warming faster than previously thought. What does that mean?

The plan was developed over the course of more than a year — and it puts forward more than 230 proposed measures.

Some will require legislative approval. Many will require the Legislature to allocate funding in the upcoming session. But some can be enacted by state agencies through what's called a rulemaking process — which is set to start soon.

The plan makes big recommendations about everything from building codes, to developing a statewide land use policy that would incentivize denser growth. It recommends Vermont come up with a way to quantify the carbon stored in agricultural and forested lands — and a way to pay landowners and business owners who protect it. It recommends Vermont plan for climate refugees and address the affordable housing shortage. And it recommends Vermont establish a statewide environmental justice policy — to bring the people most vulnerable to climate change, who are often unable to meaningfully participate in the public process — into solutions. And to better leverage federal funding.

The details of those programs will continue to be hashed out by the Climate Council and the Legislature in the new year.

Here's a look at what the new Climate Action Plan says Vermont needs to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What does this first Climate Action Plan have to accomplish, and where are we starting from?

  • Emissions in Vermont peaked in 2005. They've come down a bit since — closer to 1990 levels, as of 2018.
  • But to reach the first 2025 target, Vermont needs to seriously ramp up reductions.
  • If you look at Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions now, ranked by source (according to Vermont's 2018 Greenhouse Gas Inventory):
    A chart shows greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont since 1990 -- and where the state needs to get them to to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act.
    Energy Action Network, Courtesy
    /
    Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 -- showing where the state needs to go in order to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act.
    • Transportation: accounts for about 40%
    • Heating buildings: accounts for abut 34%
    • Agriculture: accounts for about 16%
    • Non-energy emissions (including industrial processes and waste management): 8%
    • Electricity: accounts for 2%

How is the Climate Action Plan recommending Vermont reduce emissions in these first years?

Broadly, the plan is: electrify at scale, to meet the short term emissions reduction requirements for 2025 and 2030. Modeling for the Climate Action Plan suggests doing this will keep Vermont on track to meet the 2050 requirements as well.

  • A lot of the emissions reductions Vermont has achieved since that peak in 2005 came from regulating the electric sector.
  • The really big emissions cutting proposals in the Climate Action Plan would similarly regulate fuel wholesalers — both of gasoline and diesel, and of fuel oil, propane and natural gas.
  • The plan also calls for ramping up existing regulations on electricity — requiring Vermont source 100% of our electricity as a state from renewable or carbon-free sources by 2030
  • The long term is more complicated. It involves new infrastructure, new development patterns and sequestering roughly 2 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year through land use, agriculture.

Let's look at the numbers. What is this going to look like on the ground?

Preliminary modeling for the Climate Action Plan found that by 2030, Vermont needs to:

  • Weatherize at least 90,000 additional homes
  • Install 112,000 additional heat pumps
  • Get 160,000 additional light electric vehicles like passenger cars and trucks on the road
  • Get 12,500 electric industrial trucks and vehicles, like school buses, on the road
  • Really ramp up and fund programs that help low and moderate income Vermonters access all of these things.

How is the Climate Council recommending we get those 170,000 electric passenger vehicles on the road this decade?

Funding to boost access for many Vermonters will be key.

First: the plan recommends Vermont prepare to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program:

  • New England states would team up to make large fuel wholesalers — those are the big fossil fuel companies, not locally owned gas stations or general stores — buy credits in order to sell gasoline and diesel within the state.
  • The credit system is based on existing regulations for electric utilities.
  • More about TCI-P here.
  • Wondering about how this will affect gas prices at the pump? An analysis by the Energy Action Network found it would likely raise gasoline expenses by $21-$29 per year for the average Vermont household.
  • The challenge is: three New England governors recently pulled their support for the program. And the Scott administration on Dec. 1 announced it opposes pursuing this, due to lack of buy-in from other states.

Second: Vermont will adopt California's Advanced Clean Cars II regulations.

  • Requires 100% of all NEW vehicles sold in Vermont be zero-emission EVs by 2035.
  • Rules begin to apply to all new vehicles sold in Vermont starting in model year 2026.
  • Major tax incentives for people who buy an EV.
  • Wouldn't penalize people who need a high emissions truck for work where there isn't an electric alternative.
  • The idea is: this will help expand the used electric vehicle market.

How does the plan propose reducing emissions from heating buildings — and doing things like weatherizing 90,000 homes and installing those 112,000 heat pumps?

Vermont needs to reduce emissions from buildings by at least 25%. To fund this, the plan recommends the state:

  • Adopt a Clean Heat Standard, in part to help fund weatherization at scale.
  • Like the TCI-P this would apply to fuel wholesalers — Vermont Gas and the big companies that deliver fuel to Vermont’s small fuel dealers, but not the small fuel dealers themselves.
  • Under the program, those fuel wholesalers will be required to ramp up the lower emissions or clean heating solutions (like weatherization) they offer their customers over time.
  • Wholesalers can decide how to meet the standard by, for example, shifting part of their business model to do weatherizations or install heat pumps. Or they can purchase credits that fund those activities through other companies.
  •  The plan says this must be done in a way that doesn’t raise costs for low and middle income Vermonters, but the details of how haven’t been hashed out yet.

    Other proposals in the plan:

  • Incentives for utilities to offer tariff on-bill financing to customers who want to improve efficiency in their homes.
    Some utility representatives on the Climate Council have raised concerns about what happens if people can’t pay their bills — that this could put lower income customers at risk for disconnection.
  • Calls for the Legislature to build efficiency standards for rental units into Vermont's existing housing codes.

Is our grid ready? And what are the obstacles when it comes to changing our infrastructure in the ways the plan calls for?

  • Early modeling suggests that if we do all of the solutions laid out in the Climate Action Plan, Vermont’s electricity consumption will increase by 43% by 2030.
  • Vermont will ultimately need: grid updates to boost reliability and more broadband.
  • The Agency of Transportation is still working on the state's goal to get an EV charging station within 30 miles of every Vermont resident. Vermont is expected to receive about $21 million in federal infrastructure bill for this.
  • And our used EV market still needs to grow.
  • The Climate Council hopes these new market regulations will shift the needle away from fossil fuels, in a way that does not burden people who are already facing economic hardship in Vermont — by using some of the revenue they generate to help them access electrification.
  • Then lastly: workforce. Vermont needs to recruit and train people to do this work — especially in the sectors that will be disrupted.

Does the Climate Action Plan call out any major obstacles to success or remaining concerns with regard to equity? How is the plan addressing them?

  • Lower income Vermonters — and often rural Vermonters, especially in the Northeast Kingdom — bear the worst impacts from the current cost of energy in Vermont. People who make less than $28,000 in Vermont per year spend on average up to 20% of their income on heating and electricity, according to Efficiency Vermont.
  • The plan highlights that electrification for cars and homes requires up front costs and presents unique challenges — especially for the 80,000 or so homes lived in by renters in Vermont, who could uniquely benefit from them.
A bar graph shows the combined average energy burden Vermonters experience, by income. Lower income Vermonters experience the highest energy burden -- at up to 18% of their income.
Energy Action Network, Courtesy
/
Lower income Vermonters spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy costs.

  • The Climate Council committed to using "just transitions" as a guiding framework for building the plan. And it means starting with the people and communities who are most vulnerable to and first impacted by climate change — as well as those most displaced by compelling solutions now and historically, and making sure they get to benefit from programs.

Now, moments after the Climate Action Plan was approved, the Scott administration made a statement condemning much of the process. Four Administration officials voted against adopting the plan. What were the administration’s concerns?

  • Similar to the reasons governor cited when he vetoed the Global Warming Solutions Act last year, the administration criticized the timeline for adoption set by the Legislature.
  • It also said the Climate Council — an unelected body — was tasked with doing work that should be done by the executive branch, with policy directives from the Legislature.
  • The administration also said Vermonters don’t fully understand how impactful the plan will be, and that the state needs to better study the economic ramifications — particularly whether the plan will cause costs to increase for economically disadvantaged Vermonters.
  • For emissions: the administration pulled support for further exploration of joining the TCI-P.
  • The administration also raised concerns about some of the land use recommendations in the plan.

Now that the Climate Action Plan has been adopted, what comes next?

  • The Agency of Natural Resources will start the rulemaking process — to codify a few policies in the plan, including adopting California's Advanced Clean Cars II regulations and limits on emissions from the manufacturing of semi-conductors.
  • The Climate Council will continue to meet through December, and work on a land acknowledgement.
  • More detailed modeling about the programs proposed in the plan will be finalized and published in December.
  • Many of the big proposals — including the Clean Heat Standard and TCI-P — will ultimately require action by the Legislature to fund and meaningfully initiate.
  • The plan will be updated by June 2022 with further transportation solutions.
  • As these programs are developed — the Just Transitions Subcommittee will advise legislators, administration staff about how to build them equitably.
  • And there’s going to be a big effort early in 2022, to get more feedback from the public.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles @AbagaelGiles.

Corrected: December 2, 2021 at 12:34 PM EST
It was reported in a previous version of this story that the Agency of Natural Resources will initiate rulemaking to codify the Climate Action Plan. The story has been updated to reflect the fact that ANR will initiate rulemaking to codify parts of the plan. Additionally, a few figures have been updated to reflect the most up-to-date modeling for the CAP.
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