WEST LEBANON Upper Valley lawmakers will lead the charge on energy- and environment-related issues in the Vermont and New Hampshire legislative sessions that are being held this week.
The most important work we will do in the next year in relation to energy policy and climate change will be how to direct those funds to reduce our dependence on oil and transition to renewable energy. This was said Tuesday by Rep. Tim Briglin (a Thetford Democrat who heads the House Committee on Energy and Technology).
Vermont received over $2 billion in funding from the federal infrastructure bill and has pledged to spend $250 million on climate-change-oriented initiatives. In December, the state adopted a Climate Action Plan that outlines a pathway to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
The Vermont House Transportation Committee is focusing on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. This sector accounts for nearly 40% of all emissions in rural states.
Representative Becca White, D.Hartford, is a member of the committee and will present a Transportation Innovation Act to the committee on Wednesday or Thursday. The bill is also being sponsored by Rep John Bartholomew of Hartland.
White said that the bill focuses on how to encourage people to continue to move towards electric cars or hybrids, but also how to make it possible for people to safely cycle, walk, and travel in non-car-related ways. It includes a broad range of policy recommendations, she said.
She listed many new initiatives that could help the state get closer to its goals. Pilot programs for rural Uber curb to curb public transportation that acts like a taxi will also be considered. The bill would also expand street requirements to promote sidewalks and bike trails and further finance downtown development to encourage pedestrian main streets.
White stated that we are in a completely new world when it came to the amount of funding we have available.
Vermont can build on existing programs with more funding. The bill would allow for more funding for Mileage Smart. This program encourages hybrid and electric vehicles for eligible people. She said that the bill will increase funding for multifamily EV charging stations as well as open up the grant program to schools, municipalities, and businesses.
Although the bill is large, it does not achieve all the goals of the Climate Action Plan.
She stated that the Climate Action Plan owed a lot of its weight to meeting our transportation goals via something called the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or the TCI. The regional program would have brought 11 state together to limit transportation emissions and promote investment into cleaner modes of transport. The TCI was unable to proceed after the withdrawal of governors from Connecticut and Massachusetts.
White stated that Vermont without the TCI would not have the standards or the revenue to meet many goals of the Climate Action Plan.
She stated that we must figure this out ourselves. Although we didn’t include a strategy for doing that in the bill, it will be part of the conversation over the next two years.
The Republican Gov. Phil Scott raised concerns about Climate Action Plans dependence upon the TCI in its Dec. 1 response.
This unexpected turn of events is also instructive. It has revealed the risks associated relying on plans to reduce greenhouse gas (transportation) emissions that are beyond Vermont’s control. Administration officials said last month.
Briglin is the chairman of House energy committee and will be exploring ways to reduce emissions and increase efficiency in homes as well as municipal buildings.
He said that Vermont has more than 5,000 municipal buildings. Many of them are old and drafty, and they use a lot fuel oil. He said that a bill will be introduced in the coming weeks to provide funding for municipalities to make these buildings more efficient and switch from dirty fossil fuels to cleaner, renewable energy.
His committee will also be examining a clean heat standards to shift thermal heating away fossil fuels. He said that the state would work with heating and fuel industry to reduce annual emissions. This would include heat pumps and energy efficiency.
The House Natural Resources Committee will also consider proposals related to Climate Action Plans recommendations regarding land use. The plan proposes that forest owners with Forever Wild easements be allowed to enroll in the state’s current use program to encourage old-growth forests. The state should also consider a policy of no-net loss of natural and working lands.
Both of these recommendations were criticized by the Scott administration. They argued that changes to current-use program (which provides tax breaks for farmland and forest) could have significant consequences and consequences for tax policy. This should be carefully examined. Concerns were also raised in the letter about the possible conflict between a policy of no-net loss and the need for more housing, renewable energy infrastructure, and economic development in rural areas.
The Climate Action Plan has more than 230 actions proposed, giving the Legislature plenty to work on. Briglin said that the Senate and House adopted a divide-and conquer approach. The Senate is likely to take the lead on weatherization at scale and the renewable energy standard.
Rep. Lee Oxenham of New Hampshire (D-Plainfield), is currently sponsoring a wide variety of climate-related legislation. One of her most ambitious ideas is the Climate Action Plan. This plan would set a greenhouse gas emission reduction goal of 80% by 2050 based on a 1990 baseline. She expressed doubts that it would gain traction in Concord where Republicans control both Senate & House. Other bills, such as a proposal for a study commission on universal broadband access, are more favorable to her.
She said that there is also a producer responsibility bill regarding plastic pollution. You know what? We were filling our landfill with these things that just keep on building up.
She also stated that the Legislature could restore funding for NH Saves (the state’s energy efficiency program). The Public Utilities Commission reduced funding for NH Saves last year. This was a decision that supporters claimed would reduce electricity bills, but opponents claimed would compromise long-term energy efficiency savings. Although the PUC has been sued for the decision, Oxenham stated that a legislative solution is possible.
During the break, both the Senate’s and House’s legislative delegations were talking. She stated that it seemed like there was a possibility of a bill being brought forward.
Rep. Michael Vose (R-Epping) and Sen. David Watters (D-Dover) are sponsoring bills in each chamber that could resume funding for NH Saves, effectively reversing the PUCs decision.
Oxenham stated that other bills could reduce the renewable energy fund. It is already severely depleted and has an unfilled waiting list.
If the Senate approves, one bill would exempt state or local governments from paying the electricity rates that fund the renewable energy fund.
She stated that she believes the best priorities are to maintain the programs we have now, which were last in New England when it came to funding and incentives for green energy transition. It’s so shortsighted. New Hampshire could be in the forefront.
Dovers Watters filed two bills in the Senate to promote offshore wind power, an energy source that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has supported the bill in the past.
Claire Potter is a Report for America member. You can reach her at email@example.com, or 603-727-3242