T.J. Donovan: Time for action on the climate crisis

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I strongly support H.688, Vermont's Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The climate crisis is real. It's already affecting our state and is expected to get worse. We're having milder winters, earlier springs, hotter summers, stronger storms, and more flooding. Rising annual temperatures affect our plants and forests, driving sugar maple decline and increasing the number of harmful pests. We're seeing more illnesses from ticks and mosquitos, and we have the highest rate of Lyme disease in the nation. Our wildlife also suffers — seasonal shifts make adaptation difficult for species like the black bear and snowshoe hare, and warming temperatures mean shrinking habitat for birds like the Bicknell's thrush.

Vermont cannot rely on the federal government to take climate action.

Under the Trump Administration, almost 100 important environmental regulations have been, or are being, reversed or rolled back. Since taking office in 2017, I've made it a priority for Vermont to challenge these rollbacks. This work, which we've done in partnership with other states, is a chance for Vermont to fight on many fronts for a healthy, safe environment — clean air, clean water, natural habitats, and climate.

The time for environmental leadership is now. Vermont has fallen behind our neighboring states in achieving emission reduction goals. The recently released Vermont Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory shows that we have higher greenhouse gas emissions per capita than all other New England states and New York. Further, while the Emissions Inventory showed some improvement - a 4 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2015 to 2016 - Vermont's 2016 greenhouse gas emissions are still roughly 13 percent above 1990 levels.

Last month, my Environmental Protection Division team and I testified in the House Energy and Technology Committee to support H.688. This bill is a bold, strong step in the right direction for Vermont to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resiliency in our changing climate.

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The GWSA establishes clear greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements, not just goals as in the past, with a requirement of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Under the GWSA, the Agency of Natural Resources must adopt and renew regulations on an ongoing basis to achieve these reductions based on a "Vermont Climate Action Plan" to be created by a new Vermont Climate Council. The GWSA provides many meaningful parameters for the content of the plan and the regulations. These include promoting technology and training for workers and businesses to benefit from greenhouse gas solutions; achieving reductions in specific sectors based on scientific expertise and the relative contributions of the sources; minimizing impacts on marginalized, rural, and low-income communities; and supporting natural solutions, such as carbon sequestration, on our working lands.

Further, under the GWSA, Vermonters may pursue legal remedies when the State fails to meet its statutory obligations. A court may award reasonable attorney's fees to people who win in litigation against the State. I support Vermonters' right to hold government accountable and welcome these provisions as an incentive to make sure the State is doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The GWSA alone will not be enough to hold back the climate crisis, but it is an important step. I thank the House Energy and Technology Committee and its Chair, Representative Tim Briglin, for their work so far this session. I urge the Legislature to give the Agency of Natural Resources the robust resources needed for the GWSA to be successful.

This is the time to act and the time for Vermont to lead. I strongly support the GWSA and hope that it will become law.

T.J. Donovan is the 26th Attorney General of Vermont. For more information on the environmental work of the Vermont Attorney General's Office, including its multi-state environmental work, please visit the Office's website: ago.vermont.gov. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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