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Vermont Officials Hail EPA Climate Change Plan

State officials say President Obama’s new national plan to reduce carbon emissions is an important step forward to deal with climate change. They also believe the proposal could greatly benefit Vermont’s growing energy efficiency industry.

The draft rule released by the Environmental Protection Agency calls for a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030.

"The coal plants are contributing immensely to the carbon footprint and we have got to make adjustments there." - Rep. Peter Welch

The proposal is expected to have a major impact on coal burning plants in the Midwest and the south that produce almost 40 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Congressman Peter Welch says the EPA rule is a bold step that deals with the very real problem of climate change.

“The coal plants are contributing immensely to the carbon footprint and we’ve got to make adjustments there,” said Welch. “What the president is doing is, number one, focusing attention on this problem is real. We’re having wild weather events in Vermont and all around the country, and every day we wait makes it solving this much more difficult.”

Deb Markowitz is the secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources. She says a key part of the draft rule is a provision that calls for emission reductions on a state by state basis. She says this gives individual states much more flexibility in developing solutions.

“Rather than take a look at facility-by-facility, what your contribution is and say you’ve got to cut it,  this rule says states, you take a look at the contribution overall of your participating energy plants and come up with a plan to mitigate," she said.

Markowitz says Vermont is the only state in the country that doesn’t have to come up with an emission reduction plan. But she thinks the proposal could still be very beneficial to the energy efficiency industry in the state.

“That’s because we don’t have any existing power plants that would come under this regulation,” said Markowitz. “But at the same time we’re going to benefit from these regional partnerships which will become more robust as as result of this rule."

Congressman Welch has sponsored a number of bills that encourage the expansion of efficiency and weatherization programs. Many of these efforts have drawn strong bi-partisan support. He thinks the draft EPA rule will heighten interest in these programs.

“What we’ve seen is efficiency is generally the most immediate cost beneficial way to bring down your carbon footprint,” said Welch. “I think this going to be a real wind at our back to continue our efficiency efforts in Congress.”

Welch believes that any job losses that result from the closing down of coal plants will be offset by the creation of new jobs in the energy efficiency field.

Since the EPA draft rule is subject to a year-long public comment period, it’s not clear when the proposal will go into effect. Opponents are likely to challenge it in court.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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