Climate change is the most significant threat to our planet and even in the short term will fundamentally harm our economy, from its impact on maple sugaring to the ski industry to the health of our lake and the quality of our drinking water. Just as we came together to reject fracking and embrace an aggressive goal of obtaining 90% of our energy from renewable sources by 2050, Vermont can lead the country in reducing carbon with innovative strategies and practical solutions that bring people together.
Collectively, we can solve this problem. For too long, our energy policy has favored corporations and the wealthy investors they serve. It’s time to put control of our future back in the hands of everyday Americans and create a policy that puts the health of our planet above all else.
Vermonters deserve clean water and green mountains. Healthy drinking water, safe beaches and sustainable fisheries are high priorities. We simply cannot allow Lake Champlain to die and we cannot lose our prime agricultural soils, some of the best in the world.
The work of entrepreneurs in our state has made us a leader in solar, but more needs to be done. The transition to clean energy is going to require a new kind of approach, one that engages the community in proactively to gain buy-in as we develop new projects.
For the sake of current and future generations, here is my plan for bold action to move us forward:
Investing in Clean Water and Protecting our Lake. Vermonters must be able to trust their drinking water and our lake cannot die. Both of these are currently at risk. Recent revelations around PFOA in our drinking water and the continued outbreaks of blue-green algae in our lakes and ponds are stark reminders that we have to do more to protect our water. I will fight for increased state investment so that clean water is ranked among our top priorities, not a problem we wait to address when it reaches crisis level. I will work to make a once in a generation investment in our wastewater systems, replacing the failing 100-year-old systems that still remain from the era when my great-grandfather was a part of the effort to build wastewater infrastructure. I will also hold corporate polluters accountable, and will work side by side with farmers to dramatically reduce phosphorus runoff.
In June, when the Federal Environmental Protection Agency released requirements to reduce phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain, I proposed greatly increasing state funding to go beyond the minimum required to meet the new TMDL. To truly protect our lake and ensure the its long-term health, a new approach and greatly increased state funding are necessary.
As governor, I will pursue every possible federal dollar, leveraging the clean water fund and use our own state bonding capacity to get this done. Our state’s water is a shared responsibility. We must address the infrastructure needs together, including working with developers and our farmers to invest in new technology and appropriate buffers to reduce phosphorus runoff.
Stopping investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure. I oppose the pipeline proposed to run through Addison County. It simply doesn’t make sense for our state. The cost of the project increases every month and new issues with the construction are continually uncovered. The cost of the project has more than doubled since its approval by the Public Service Board, yet the PSB has not called for new hearings to provide a full reevaluation of the project’s economics as required by statute. There’s no information that it would be good for ratepayers and the Department of Public Service has failed to call for hearings, despite the burden this substantial cost increase would have for existing gas system ratepayers. Furthermore, the pipeline is counter to the goal we’ve established of getting to 90% renewables by 2050. I believe investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure should be a last resort, and instead we should focus on investing in the renewable energy infrastructure that will be necessary to meet our established and aggressive goal.
Divesting from fossil fuels. We must divest from fossil fuels, because Vermont should not remain invested in an industry that fuels climate chaos. Divestment from the fossil fuel industry is a financially and socially responsible step for our state. States and municipalities as large as California and as small as Washington, D.C., whose fund is comparable in size to Vermont’s, are successfully divesting from fossil fuel. Due to international commitments to reduce carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels -- as well as our own goal of 90% renewables by 2050 -- the fossil fuel industry is likely to have stranded costs in future years, making it a losing prospect for investors. Vermont investments, specifically the public employee pension fund, could be hit hard if we do not begin the divestment process now. Furthermore, if the state remains invested in fossil fuels, public employees would be in the contradictory position of working against their own retirement investments as they seek to achieve the state’s goal of 90% by 2050.
Banning the state’s purchase of heating oil from ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil has been a bad corporate actor, wreaking havoc on the environment and misleading the public over the dangers and business risks of climate change. For decades, ExxonMobil knew that climate change would be bad for the oil business, and aggressively kept that information from investors and the public. It also worked to spread confusion about climate change, including whether it was caused by burning fossil fuels. This strategic misinformation campaign misled investors and slowed real efforts to reduce carbon emissions. We should not do business with a company like that, and as governor, I will push for a ban on spending taxpayer dollars on heating fuel from ExxonMobil.
Establishing a $100M Green Jobs Fund, which would function like an ESCO, to invest in efficiency, low impact sited solar and heat pump technology in commercial buildings, multi-unit housing, schools and public buildings. The biggest challenges to energy efficient buildings are leased commercial and rental properties where there is typically little incentive to make efficiency improvements. We have the opportunity to create a $100M fund through an ESCO bond that would provide free upfront capital to increase efficiency, provide renewable energy, and install heat pumps across the state to significantly reduce our carbon footprint and make heating costs more affordable. We will also work with Vermont Technical College to ensure that we have the workforce to meet the significant need created by this investment. ESCOs have a strong track record; we can make this kind of investment and infuse significant capital into Vermont without affecting the state’s balance sheet. This will greatly reduce our carbon footprint, make us more efficient, and put Vermonters to work.
In addition, we must:
Invest in microgrids. We should develop microgrids so communities can benefit from energy produced locally. Microgrids improve efficiency by keeping locally generated power close to where it will be utilized and saving energy that is lost in transmission in traditional power grids.
Explore Carbon Pricing. To reward Vermonters and Vermont companies that are committed to reducing carbon, we should explore joining the California cap and trade program.
Utilize our dams. We have hundreds of dams across the state that are not being used for electrical production. I believe this is a missed opportunity, and as governor, I will make sure we take a serious look at our hydropower options.
Ensure Vermont Yankee decommissioning stays on track. The most dangerous financial liability for the state is the decommissioning process at the old Vermont Yankee plant. We must ensure Entergy meets all of its financial commitments while also finding a new employer to utilize the electrical infrastructure uniquely built on that site.
Mitigate risk in the new climate. We need to implement the “Road to Resilience” recommendations including specific aligning of our emergency response teams, investment strategies, and clear goals to make sure we are in a position to withstand the climate of the future. (http://www.iscvt.org/program/resilient-vermont/)
Create a new approach to wind project siting. The current approach to wind development is not working. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors and few turbines are added to the system, leaving Vermonters divided and no significant additional renewable energy on our grid. We must address this dynamic as we battle climate change and continue down the path to 90% renewable energy by 2050, and we must do it in a Vermont way. If a town votes the project down by Australian ballot, I will use all the power of the Governor’s office to ensure that is the end of the project.
I will work to build trust between responsible wind developers and communities. If a town supports a project, I will be personally engaged to make sure it proceeds in the least contentious way possible. I will also launch a statewide planning initiative, with an eye to our renewable energy goal, which will get us there much more quickly, and in a more unified way.
One of the most important appointments I will make as governor will be the new chair of the public service board. I will ensure that the chair is someone who clearly understands the imperative of getting to 90% renewable by 2050, but also is able to be sensitive and inclusive of all parties during the deliberative process.
Protect Vermont’s Forests. Vermonters know how important our forests are to our economy and wildlife. Our forests are also critical to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. According to the 2015 Vermont Forest Fragmentation Report, forests are estimated to sequester over 8 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents per year, almost as much as our annual emissions. Forests pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, trees and other vegetation, moderating the rate of climate change and its associated impacts. Vermont forests annually remove an amount of CO2 from the air equal to the annual emissions produced by 14,000 light-duty vehicles, as well as 1,610 metric tons of other pollutants—a function that would be worth about $16 million if it were paid for out of pocket. We need to make sure that our forests are protected so that the wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration and forest economy are protected and enhanced.
Invest in a grid to give all Vermonters the opportunity to lower their transportation bills through electric cars. Electric cars provide consumers the equivalent of $1 per gallon gas. With plug-in vehicles coming onto the used car market, we can provide resources to get plug-in capacity to homes and workplaces. Moving to a smart grid will also allow for real time pricing so Vermonters can pay for electricity at the lowest cost moments.
Explore biomass projects. The state should work with our cities to explore combined heat and power biomass projects to reduce costs while we grow our traditional population centers.
Create financing systems to allow Vermonters to replace trailers with zero energy housing options like VerMods.
Partner with global innovation leaders to use battery technology to turn our renewable energy into base-load power.
Work with our forward thinking utilities to use big data to strengthen our grid.
Expand commuter and freight rail throughout the state. I was part of the team that brought passenger rail to Rutland and improved the speed to New York on the Vermonter. My administration will deliver on the promise of a rail connection to Montreal and expanded passenger rail on both sides of the state.
Make Montpelier the first carbon neutral capital in America. I helped initiate the Energy Action Network planning group and will work hard to make that vision a reality.