Commentary by Rebecca Holcombe
The vast majority of Vermonters agree: we face a climate crisis.
Our climate-dependent industries are threatened. Our water isn’t clean. Flooding is harming crops and damaging roads. We have more ticks, with their associated illnesses.
The vast majority of Vermonters also agree that we, as a state, must take immediate action to address it. Unfortunately, our Governor doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Let’s first look at the facts.
In Vermont Digger recently, Governor Scott said when it comes to action, “I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, I’m not looking to come out with something dramatic.”
Business as usual can’t solve the problems that business as usual created.
Vermont’s average annual temperature has risen by 1.3°F since 1960. Lake Champlain’s average August surface temperature has increased nearly 7°F in the last fifty years. And, severe storms and rainfall are washing out fields, eroding stream banks, and flushing toxic contaminants into lakes where they cause harmful algae blooms, prevent recreation, and contaminate drinking water supplies. Vermont had 162 polluted waterways in 2002; by 2018 it had 224.
When President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, the legislature and Governor Scott committed Vermont to abide by the Agreement’s goals. Yet the Governor is not leading on climate, and Vermont is not taking the action needed to foster a safe, prosperous, and climate-altered economy for our state and our children. In fact, his staff struck climate change language from an Act 250 report, and our most recent available data suggests our climate pollution problem is still getting worse.
We are standing still, so we are falling behind.
I have spoken to hundreds of Vermonters in recent weeks, and one common thread in these conversations is that we need strong action now to reduce our climate pollution and protect our environment. Our shared well-being depends on it.
Transitioning to a renewable energy future is one of our greatest economic opportunities. Failing to plan for a climate-altered future is one of our greatest risks.
The legislature should pass, and the Governor should sign, a Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act, which makes our climate pollution goals enforceable requirements. This Act will restructure our state government so it is able to respond to the climate crisis and create a post-fossil-fuel economy that is thriving for Vermonters.
This one step will refocus the state on innovative efforts to meet our goals, from opportunities to grow Vermont’s high wage, renewable energy, and green construction businesses to opportunities to reduce our need for out-of-state fossil fuels. As Governor, I will keep our utility companies on track to power our communities with 100% renewable — and affordable — energy by 2030 and to modernize the grid so rural communities can be part of our generation and storage solutions. Keep in mind that when Vermonters buy in-state renewable energy, they are paying Vermont workers who use their wages to buy goods and services from other Vermont businesses.
But our challenge isn’t just reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. And, planning for resilience isn’t just about the energy sector. It is also about planning for our climate-altered future, from food security to investing in the infrastructure needed to build affordable and green homes near where people work. We also must strengthen career pathways and post-secondary education to ensure Vermonters have the skills to pursue careers in our high-wage, high-growth sectors like green energy and green construction.
Governor Scott has said the climate crisis could be a boon to Vermont, remarking, “I think we’re in a pretty good position — with an abundance of water and other attributes — to look quite good as compared to other states in America. We could be the Mecca.” We may be on track to be a “Mecca” for the most privileged, but if we don’t plan carefully, we’ll also be the type of state that pushes low and moderate-income residents out the door because we have such a shortage of affordable housing. And, it’s hard to feel too good about our abundance of water when so much of it isn’t clean.
It’s time for Vermont to step up. With new leadership, we can leave inaction behind. Taking care of the environment can be an opportunity for every Vermonter, in every region of our state, to live and earn well, be healthy, and care for a family. That’s why I am running for Governor.