On Thursday Vermont’s Climate Caucus discussed plans by state leaders to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to transform the way people use energy, transportation, heating and more.
According to Sen. Chris Pearson, D/P-Chittenden, climate change activists want to see Vermont spend up to $200 million in taxpayer funds. The money would come out of Vermont’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, the latest financial package from the federal government to spur economies amid continued COVID-19 lockdowns.
ARPA will provide more than $1 billion dollars for Vermont. The Green Mountain State has received over $4 billion in all since the lockdowns began. The influx of federal money has green activists seeing opportunity for their cause.
“We’ve had a bunch of emails — so for folks watching, thank you for your pressure that way to keep $200 million aside for climate. That’s terrific,” Pearson told the committee.
Vermont’s transportation budget is one place where lawmakers want to implement new green policies. The Senate is currently working on H.433, the annual transportation budget update. The FY22 version passed out of the House with millions allocated for green projects.
These projects include $600,000 on the electric vehicle subsidy program MileageSmart, $375,000 for an emissions repair program, and $50,000 to help Vermonters purchase motor-assisted bicycles.
Sen. Russ Ingalls, R-Essex-Orleans, is the only Republican on the Transportation Committee. He told True North in a phone interview Sunday that his colleagues should not get ahead of themselves on the electrification of travel.
“It’s a lot of money. The state is really moving toward, or trying to move toward, the electrification of vehicles,” he said. “We’re trying not to put the cart before the horse. We have over 600,000 cars in the state of Vermont and I think that we have less than 4,000 electric vehicles.”
He added that there are already multiple state incentives to purchase EVs on top of a big federal tax credit of up to $7,500.
Sen. Andrew Perchlik, D/P-Washington, told the committee there’s a big push for the electrification of transportation.
“There’s an electrification plan in there, there’s a lot of incentives for moving regular electric vehicles, but also looking at specifically low-income Vermonters and how we can move them to different transportation alternatives,” he said.
Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln, said that high installation cost for EV chargers is a tough hurdle.
“In my district installation costs are one of the biggest barriers,” she said.
Perchlik agreed with that notion, adding that green energy projects must compete with other basic infrastructure needs.
“There’s money for municipalities that they could use but my guess is the costs are too high,” he said. “They would probably rather use that money for infrastructure improvements like paving or culverts, but they could use it for charging stations.”
He noted they would like to have an electric charging station within five miles of every exit off the interstate highway system. There’s not a deadline for this target.
Rep. Kari Dolan, D-Waitsfield, said she would like to see more “smart growth” policies that discourage “non-vehicular travel.”
“What also has to go hand-in-hand is maintaining our land-use policies, maintaining smart growth principles, and how we develop to ensure that we are, in fact, providing for non-vehicular travel in our communities,” she said.
She added that reforms to the state Act 250, Vermont’s land-use policy, also should be looked into.
Rep. Rebecca White, D-Hartford, suggested that Vermont should move toward keeping residents out of cars altogether.
“We completely agree with what Representative Dolan said, which is thinking about how do we make these places not focused on car travel as the only way to get somewhere,” White said.