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Vermont isn't on track to meet its climate commitments, new analysis shows

Electric vehicles and a charging station in Burlington.
Henry Epp
VPR File
As part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Vermont is in the process of adopting new regulations from California that will ramp up gradually until 2035, when every new car sold in the state will be an electric or hydrogen powered vehicle.

Vermont is falling behind — and is unlikely to meet — its legally-required emission reductions by 2030. That's according to a recent report from the nonprofit Energy Action Network.

The EAN, which tracks Vermont’s emissions, said the state hasn't adopted strategies that would lead to the required reductions, especially in its heating and transportation sectors.

Vermont lawmakers in 2020 passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which includes legally-binding emission requirements. But efforts to implement emissions reductions have failed, and if the state doesn't reach the reductions spelled out in the law, it could be sued.

“What I do know very clearly is that we are not on track,” said Jared Duval, executive director of EAN. “Being on track requires actually passing policies.”

More fromThe New England News Collaborative: Heading towards winter, New England debates the role of natural gas

Speaking on Vermont Edition Thursday, Duval said Vermont could still get back on track, but not without adopting major new policies to cut emissions from heating buildings and from transportation, which together make up the vast majority of our emissions as a state.

“It is in everybody’s interest that we actually pass the policies that can get us on track, rather than defaulting to or being forced into a court-ordered regulatory, much blunter approach," he said.

Duval said Vermont has already shown, through joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and implementing the Renewable Energy Standard, that broad policies to shift markets away from greenhouse gas consumption do deliver lower emissions.

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“There’s two really broad policies that can give us confidence in achieving emissions reductions,” he said, pointing to cap and invest or cap and reduce policies, like RGGI, and to performance standards, like Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard.

Last year, Vermont lawmakers tried to advance a Clean Heat Standard — a credit based system that would have pushed companies that supply fossil fuel heat to Vermont businesses and homes towards less polluting options. It was one of three key recommendations for cutting emissions in the state’s Climate Action Plan.

Of those solutions, Duval pointed out, only California’s clean cars rules have moved forward — and Vermont committed to adopting them long before lawmakers codified the state’s commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by passing the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Duval called California’s clean cars and clean trucks rules an incredibly important tool, but said it's not enough.

"On its own, modeling by both Energy Action Network and contractors hired by the state of Vermont has shown that that will likely only contribute about 10-14% of the [overall] needed emissions reductions by 2030," he said.

The state is in the process of adopting new regulations from California that will ramp up gradually until 2035, when every new car sold in the state will be an electric or hydrogen powered vehicle.

Learn more about how to weigh in at a virtual public hearing on Sept. 23, here.

At that time, you won’t be able to register a new internal combustion vehicle with the state of Vermont.

Jane Lazorchak, director of the Agency of Natural Resources’ newly formed Climate Action Office, echoed Duval’s warnings that Vermont is not on track to meet its overall emissions deadline for 2030.

But Lazorchak was more optimistic about current efforts underway to curb emissions from driving.

Pointing to the same data, Lazorchak noted the new clean cars and clean trucks policies are projected to get Vermont roughly a third of the emissions reductions needed from the transportation sector by 2030.

“It’s not all of the emissions,” Lazorchak said. “Obviously, we still have to figure out where the rest are going to come from, but it’s a big component of getting us there.”

If Vermont adopts them, those new rules will go into effect in 2026.

Lazorchak says current modeling suggests that if Vermont does nothing else to cut emissions from cars, the new electric vehicle rules will put the state on track to meet its 2030 emissions target for transportation by 2033.

“That rulemaking process is delivering as many EVs as we’re going to get from the market share," Lazorchak said. “And so thinking about what else we can do in that space is challenging in the short term for emissions reductions, and also to what cost.”

Lazorchak says the Department of Transportation is working on a study right now about how best to decarbonize the way Vermonters get around in the short-term.

Preliminary results of that study are due in December, and Lazorchak says they’ll shed needed light on what more needs to be done in the next few years.

“We need to figure out what the policy driver is to close the gap, and what the sustainable funding sources are to do that,” she said.

But Duval, with EAN, said Vermont need big changes, to meet its legal commitments and ensure less volatile fuel costs for Vermonters into the future.

“Until and unless we pass policies focused on reducing emissions and reducing our dependence on high cost, volatile fossil fuels in the transportation and thermal sectors, we can’t have any confidence that we’re going to be able to meet these legal requirements," he said.

Modeling done for the stateshows Vermont stands to save $6.4 billion by 2050 in avoided energy costs and damages due to climate change, if we do what the Climate Action Plan says.

The Climate Council has weighed a variety of next steps in the transportation sector, including joining the Western Climate Initiative.

He says market solutions are what’s needed, but individuals can also contribute.

“On an individual level, I think one of the most important things is to make a commitment to never purchase another piece of fossil fuel dependent equipment, when there is an affordable electric or renewable alternative,” he told Vermont Edition.

More from VPR: How Vermont is — and isn’t — on track to reduce its share of climate-warming emissions

And he says federal incentives and emerging technologies are making that increasingly possible.

Lazorchak says it’s likely the Climate Council will propose a new policy to cut emissions from heating buildings to the Legislature this session. However, she says it’s unlikely they’ll make a recommendation for a similar program regulating transportation until the second half of the biennium.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles @AbagaelGiles.

Corrected: September 16, 2022 at 7:27 AM EDT
This story has been corrected to note the modeling regarding Vermont's savings from implementing the Climate Action Plan was commissioned by the state, and done by Cadmus and Energy Futures Group.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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