President Donald Trump’s decision to quit the 2015 Paris climate agreement represented an abdication of leadership and a triumph of ignorance over science. It also put in jeopardy America’s economy and the health of our people.
Under Trump, the U.S. joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations in the world to have rejected the agreement. And it should be noted, Nicaragua didn’t sign on because the agreement was not considered strong enough.
In the face of such an extraordinarily reckless move by our president, Gov. Phil Scott did the right thing by joining the U.S. Climate Alliance – a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to bringing about the same reduction in climate pollution as would have been achieved under the agreement.
Gov. Scott’s willingness to stand up to the president is laudable, and clearly in tune with what Vermonters want to see from their governor. It was also one of the steps that VPIRG and a dozen other organizations urged him to take in the face of Trump’s retreat from the world stage.
But when it comes to actually fighting global warming, it is action that matters even more than words. And since he was elected, Gov. Scott’s actions on climate have indicated anything but a willingness to lead.
Let’s remember that despite Vermont’s recent progress in developing some of our renewable energy resources and promoting efficiency, we’re still a long way from achieving our own, well-established climate goals.
Since 2012, many Vermont jobs have been created in the clean energy sector. In fact, more than 17,000 Vermonters now work in clean energy, and our state is home to a number of business leaders in the field. But instead of supporting the continued growth of clean energy and efficiency programs, Gov. Scott has them in his crosshairs.
He has said many times that he opposes wind energy, just as President Trump does. He has endorsed new standards that would make meaningful wind development in the state all but impossible. And in a stunning move for one trying to prove his commitment to the climate, Gov. Scott appointed a wind energy opponent as the new Public Service Board chairman.
A governor and PSB chairman who are indiscriminately opposed to one of our most promising and affordable renewable energy technologies in Vermont? That’s not the leadership on climate we need.
But that’s not all. Gov. Scott has also advocated for an 8 percent funding cut for the popular Efficiency Vermont program, and he has rebuffed plans to make fossil fuel companies pay for carbon pollution and use the money to cut taxes for Vermonters.
If the governor is serious about providing real leadership on climate action, here are some specific suggestions:
• Put out a detailed plan for reaching the goals of the U.S. Climate Alliance and Vermont’s own, more ambitious greenhouse gas emission goals.
• Support enactment of legislation to enshrine Vermont’s 90 percent by 2050 renewable energy goal into law.
• Reverse course on cutting Efficiency Vermont’s funding.
• Drop blanket opposition to a plan that would cut taxes for Vermonters while gradually increasing the price of carbon pollution.
• Utilize the Volkswagen settlement funds to electrify the state’s transportation sector.
• Stop opposing renewable technologies that provide clean energy and employment for many Vermonters.
• Oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure, including fracked gas pipelines.
• Ensure that low-income weatherization and LIHEAP are at a minimum, made whole in the face of any federal cuts.
• Convene a Vermont Climate Cabinet and reconstitute the Governor’s Advisory Council on Energy and the Environment to identify the solutions required to meet climate goals.
It won’t be easy for states to make up for the failure of our president to lead.
But, if the governor is really ready to fight back, and is prepared to take meaningful action on climate, he will find VPIRG and its 40,000 supporters ready to help. We are willing to “walk the walk” together, because climate change is Vermont’s most urgent long-term threat. And with some vision and courage, it could also become a catalyst to help strengthen the economy, create jobs, make Vermont more affordable, and protect the most vulnerable.
Paul Burns, of Montpelier, is the executive director of VPIRG (Vermont Public Interest Research Group).