Responding to climate change and protecting Vermont’s natural resources and environment continued to be a major legislative priority this session. The Vermont Climate Action Plan outlined a series of recommendations and actions that the Legislature acted on this session. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed several key climate and environmental bills, including one that would establish a Clean Heat Standard and two that would have better preserved forests and biodiversity conservation areas, setting back efforts to meet state greenhouse gas emissions requirements.
However, the Legislature did invest $215 million in climate-related actions, including $80 million for home weatherization efforts through the Department of Children and Families and Efficiency Vermont for low- and moderate-income families respectively. In addition, H.518/Act 172 appropriates $45 million and creates the Municipal Energy Resilience Program through the Department of Buildings and General Service to assist municipalities with projects to reduce fossil fuel usage and increase heating system efficiency in municipally-owned buildings. Finally, nearly $70 million is earmarked for advanced metering infrastructure and electrification initiatives through the Department of Public Service and Agency of Transportation (see below). In addition, we invested over $100 million in water and wastewater improvements that will improve municipal services and reduce pollution in Lake Champlain and other state waterways.
In addition, we passed critical environmental justice legislation that will create the tools and framework to both measure and address the disproportionate impact environmental damage has on marginalized communities, such as people living in poverty, indigenous communities, and migrant workers, and ensure these communities receive an equitable share of environmental benefits. This legislation (S.148/Act 154), which I co-sponsored, was a decade in the making and brings Vermont into compliance with federal environmental justice requirements.
While other forest protection measures were vetoed by the Governor, H.697/Act 146, which allows the enrollment of ecologically significant treatment areas (ESTAs) into the state’s Use Value Appraisal Program, was signed into law. These areas, which include old growth forests, can now be managed using protective or conservation management strategies, rather than be managed for timber harvesting. This will enable landowners to manage some of their land for purely conservation purposes, while also benefiting from property tax reductions.
Finally, the annual Transportation Bill (H.736) makes significant investments in reducing carbon emissions from motor vehicles, including 1) $4.0 million for the Park and Ride Program to create a new facility and add 254 new spaces in heavily used facilities; 2) $19.7 million for bike and pedestrian projects around the state, including in Bristol, Middlebury, New Haven, and Vergennes, and support for the Safe Routes to School program; 3) $5.7 million for the Transportation Alternatives Program involving either clean water or stormwater concerns or bike & pedestrian facilities, including projects in Bridport and Vergennes; 4) $50 million for the Public Transit Program; 5) $35 million for the Rail Program which includes support for passenger rail service and infrastructure for the NYC-BTV route; 6) $16 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure throughout Vermont; 7) $20 million for electric vehicle incentives and programs.