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Commentary: Flynn, Tierney and Moore: With New Federal Funding, A Solid Plan and A Transformational Vision, We Can and Must Act on Climate

May 10, 2021

By Secretary Joe Flynn, Commissioner June Tierney and Secretary Julie Moore

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) was a centerpiece of the last legislative session. It was driven by very real concerns around Vermont’s changing climate and the magnitude of what must be done to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and make our landscape more resilient. 

In its forthcoming 2020 Annual Progress Report for Vermont, the Energy Action Network (EAN) estimates that to achieve the GWSA’s emissions reduction requirement for 2025, we will need to put more than 46,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and replace nearly 32,000 fossil fuel-based home and building heating systems with heat pumps or advanced wood heat.

These numbers are daunting and little time remains to do this work. But it becomes more manageable if we act now on initiatives we won’t later regret. 

And here’s why we can make significant investments right now, when in year’s past we could not: Vermont will receive $1 billion through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This funding presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immediately accelerate “no regrets” climate action work. Governor Scott’s proposed ARPA budget calls for $200 million over three years to facilitate direct, strategic, and measurable emissions reductions. In addition, the Governor proposed $225 million to expand broadband access that will benefit climate by facilitating more telecommuting in place of driving to destinations.

At the same time, the Vermont Climate Council is hard at work to develop a Climate Action Plan (CAP) by December 1 of this year. The CAP will specify the full suite of initiatives, programs and strategies needed to meet the GWSA’s GHG emissions reduction commitments. The Council will achieve an important milestone when it adopts the CAP, but it is neither a starting line nor an endpoint for climate action. 

While the CAP will be a framework for implementing steps to achieve GHG emissions reductions, we cannot afford to defer all action until every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed. The Governor’s proposal reserves $100 million to support implementation of the CAP while also committing $100 million to things we can and should do right now – so called “no regrets” policies.

No regrets policies are investments we can confidently make immediately, while work on the CAP continues. From weatherizing homes to expanding Vermont’s network of EV charging stations to making improvements to the electric grid to helping relocate homes and businesses in harm’s way, there are things we can do now that don’t risk getting out of step with this plan. 

For instance, considering Vermont had less than 4,000 EVs registered as of July of last year and fewer than 300 publicly available EV charging stations spread across the state, even if the CAP determines we need significantly fewer than the 46,000 EVs currently estimated, we’ll still need a dramatic increase in EVs and infrastructure over the next four years. So, acting now to invest in EVs and charging infrastructure  as Governor Scott has proposed  is the right thing to do.

This funding will be used to deploy charging stations in strategic locations statewide, including along highway corridors, at office buildings, in downtowns and village centers, at multi-family housing sites and more. The deployment will follow the current location pattern, but at a much higher rate. And although EVs are currently a small fraction of the existing vehicle stock in Vermont, their deployment is growing rapidly – both within Vermont and the region. Continuing to build charging infrastructure throughout the state is necessary to support this growth and ensure Vermont is well-positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities and benefits afforded by EVs. This should be a “no regrets” move we can all get behind. 

The moral imperative to do our piece in driving down greenhouse gas emissions is more real and more urgent than it has ever been. We need to accelerate our actions, now. And we have the federal funds to do it. We know this is a goal the Legislature shares, but we need their partnership in fully supporting the Governor’s $200 million climate action proposal, so we can capitalize on the unprecedented resources to make transformational investments and take bold and immediate action in the face of the significant climate challenges. 

Joe Flynn is the secretary of the Agency of Transportation; June Tierney is the commissioner of the Department of Public Service; and Julie Moore is the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. They, alongside many others, support the Scott Administration’s cross-agency approach to climate action.