Reporter Debrief: Vermont's Climate Action Plan Is Racing Towards A December Deadline. Here's How To Weigh In
Time is ticking down for Vermont's Climate Council to adopt a plan for how the state will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and comply with a state law that sets those benchmarks — the Global Warming Solutions Act.
And starting this week, the council is asking Vermonters to weigh in.
Abagael Giles, joined Anna Van Dine on VPR’s daily news podcast The Frequency, to lay out where we are in this process and why it's so important. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Anna Van Dine: This has been in the works for a while now, The Global Warming Solutions Act was passed last year. Can you give us a rundown of what this is and why it's relevant?
Abagael Giles: Sure. So the Climate Action Plan is what they're working on. And it's supposed to lay out concrete actions Vermont can take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, to comply with the Global Warming Solutions act.
And there's this first landmark that's coming up: the state must reduce emissions to 26%, below 2005 levels by 2025, and then go much further.
The plan is going to be written by the Vermont Climate Council —
that's a 23-member body appointed by the Legislature, plus some administration staff.
There are also five subcommittees, made up of subject matter experts. And they're really kind of focusing on a bunch of different sectors. They're looking at agriculture and ecosystems, rural resilience, science and data, to name a few. There's also a Just Transitions subcommittee.
And this plan is basically supposed to be a roadmap, to show how Vermont is going to tackle one of the biggest existential threats to humanity, but also to our state's landscape and to the economy.
“But it feels like we have this one-time window to either create a plan for Vermont, that feels to Vermonters like someone else made it for them, or there's an opportunity to feel like it's our plan that we built together.”-- Rep. Katherine Sims, Caledonia and Orleans district
So clearly, this is no small task. What is the timeline for creating the Climate Action Plan? And will the public get to see a draft with specifics about how Vermont is going to meet these emissions goals?
So the Global Warming Solutions act sets this Dec. 1 deadline, and it would actually take an act of the Legislature to move it — that’s written into the statute.
The full draft won't be available or likely even completed until the Nov. 23 Climate Council meeting, and then it has to be adopted at that Dec. 1 Climate Council meeting.
So yeah, it's a really quick turn.
But the chapters are going to be debated and discussed at public Climate Council meetings as they're written.
And there's also going to be a lot of analysis still to come about current emissions, economic impact, how to measure progress once the plan is enacted.
Global Warming Solutions Act Project Director Jane Lazorchak says this first plan will really kind of focus on those first couple of years. And there will be some room after it's passed for revisions.
But also: the plan is also going to be updated every few years.
And the Global Warming Solutions Act includes language about making sure the plan impacts and serves Vermonters equitably. Working within such a tight turnaround, like you just laid out, are there any concerns about being able to do that effectively?
Yeah, so one thing that's come up in a lot of Climate Council and subcommittee meetings is this idea that climate change is upon us; it's happening already in Vermont. It's disrupting people's lives. It's disrupting industries. And that's all going to continue.
But right now, the people first affected — that's Black Vermonters and Indigenous people, people of color, lower income Vermonters, people in rural parts of the state who may not have reliable access to broadband — they don't have equal ability to participate in our public process.
So there's kind of this question: How do you move quickly, but also make sure you're reaching those people who have historically been left out of these sorts of processes, in some cases because of systemic racism?
And the Legislature were really clear in writing the Global Warming Solutions Act, that centering the people most impacted in our climate solutions should be part of the plan.
There's actually a subcommittee tasked with holding the council up to account on this — the Just Transitions subcommittee.
But some legislators have raised concern about the tight deadline. Rep. Katherine Sims from Caledonia and Orleans counties, voiced some at an August meeting of the House Committee on Energy and Technology:
“But it feels like we have this one-time window to either create a plan for Vermont, that feels to Vermonters like someone else made it for them, or there's an opportunity to feel like it's our plan that we built together.”
Giles: And she says, you know, broadly in our state, rural communities and people living in rural places sometimes do get left out of decision making processes.
I was also at a meeting for farmers this week, where people kind of said, you know, it's hard to give concrete feedback at this phase. Graham Unangst-Rufenacht is a farmer in Plainfield:
“From, just putting my farmer hat on, I still feel like I need to hear a little bit more about what the ultimate manifestation of this is, to know, like, how to give you advice on how to give me assistance in implementing the recommendations, or thoughts on the programs, or how to have a relationship with them.”
So it'll be interesting to see if people in other sectors feel that way about the process too.
Alright, let's say the Climate Council can’t decide on a plan by their Dec. 1 deadline. What happens?
Get this: No one knows. Here's Matt Chapman, the general counsel for the Agency of Natural Resources:
“So… the Global Warming Solutions Act doesn't necessarily say what happens if the council fails to meet the Dec. 1 deadline.”
Basically, he says the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources — that's Sec. Julie Moore — would then have to create rules to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act [without the guidance of an enacted Climate Action Plan].
"The Global Warming Solutions Act doesn't necessarily say what happens if the council fails to meet the Dec. 1 deadline."Matt Chapman, general counsel to the Agency of Natural Resources
No one really wants this scenario; it's not how things are intended to play out.
Chapman also pointed out, it's interesting to note: the law doesn't technically require public input on the Climate Action Plan, and the council is still formalizing a process for how public input will be incorporated. But they have promised very publicly, many times, it will be.
Alright, and this public input that you just mentioned, if Vermonters do want to have a say in how the state's going to address climate change, what might that look like over the next few months?
So the council is presenting on big picture ideas, these “pathways” that they have now, that will help them kind of prioritize where they can come up with specific actions. And they're presenting these at these in-person engagement events later this month:
Sept, 21 from 5-7 p.m. in Elmore
Sept. 22 from 5-7 p.m. in East Dorset
Sept. 23 from 5-7 p.m. in Island Pond
Sept. 26 from 3-5 p.m. in Colchester
And they're also hosting three virtual events, including one BIPOC-only event on Oct. 5.
Lazorchak says they are hoping to hear ideas from Vermonters about those sort of concrete actions they can take.
You can also submit a comment online, and you can do that now.
But if you want to give feedback on those specific actions that they might take, or if you're looking to see that final draft of the plan before it's adopted, you're going to want to follow Climate Council meetings this fall. Those are public, and you'll definitely want to put the Nov. 23 meeting on your calendar.
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