Statehouse Headliners: Vermont can’t track progress on greenhouse gas reduction goals

By Guy Page

On Oct. 12, former Vermont state Sen. Wendy Wilton of Rutland asked her Facebook friends, “Anybody have an update on whether or not Vermont is meeting its [greenhouse gas emission reduction] goals?”

Yesterday I heard Vermont’s climate czar give his answer: No. The numbers don’t exist. The fault lies with the Trump administration and the changing science of measuring and gathering greenhouse gas data.

First, a little background: In 2012, the Legislature passed a law setting the following goal to reduce “emissions of greenhouse gases from the 1990 baseline by: (1) 25 percent by Jan. 1, 2012; (2) 50 percent by Jan. 1, 2028; (3) if practicable using reasonable efforts, 75 percent by Jan. 1, 2050.”

Fast forward to Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, at the Vermont Statehouse. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Wolke, chair of the Governor’s Climate Action Commission, somberly told the Legislature’s Joint Energy Committee (Sen. Ginny Lyons, Chair) the plan started slowly: emissions from 1990 to 2013 actually rose almost 5 percent. But since 2013 the work has slowed because standards and metrics keep changing. For example, methane has been discovered to be 25 times, and nitrous oxide 300 times, more potent than carbon dioxide. Also, as soon as the Trump administration took over, important baseline data on the Environmental Protection Agency website disappeared. It is still missing.

Even well-funded climate change leader states like California are behind in greenhouse gas data collection. “I don’t know if it’s possible to catch up,” Wolke said.

There’s more information about progress towards 2025 renewable energy goals, but it is still incomplete. Vermont now sources 55 percent of electricity from renewables (2025 goal: 67 percent), and 5.5 percent for transportation (goal: 10 percent). There is no data yet for meeting heating goals, Public Service Commissioner June Tierney said.

Gov. Phil Scott has directed the Climate Action Commission to present three affordable, economy-stimulating, vulnerable-people-friendly recommendations to the Legislature in January.

Good news department: LIHEAP caseload, unemployment rate down

The state of Vermont has more money to give to individual Vermonters in need of home heating assistance, because the caseload is way down  —  another sign of Vermonters growing less dependent on public assistance.

A VT Digger story by Erin Mansfield reveals the number of LIHEAP fuel assistance households is down 25 percent from 2013. Thanks to decreased demand and low, stable fuel prices, LIHEAP now can provide more help per individual recipient. Last week, SHH reported that EBT (“food stamps”) and Reach Up caseloads have dropped by about 30 percent since 2013.

More Vermonters are working, so fewer are applying for these programs. The Vermont unemployment rate fell to 2.9 percent in September, the lowest since December, 2000.

Assisted death supporters want VT doctors to say it is ‘ethical’

In 2013, Act 39 made physician-assisted death legal. Now, doctors should call it ethical, too, according to a resolution before the Vermont Medical Society annual meeting Saturday morning Nov. 4 in Woodstock.

The resolution says in part: “The Vermont Medical Society recognizes that medical aid in dying, in the form of Vermont Act 39, is a legal, ethical choice that could be made by qualified practitioners in the context of the physician-patient relationship.”

A federal judge has ruled that under Act 39, doctors do not have the affirmative duty to inform patients about assisted suicide, and may refer patients’ questions to another physician. A challenge to that ruling will be held Nov. 20 in federal court in Rutland.

The VMS also will consider a resolution opposing marijuana legalization.

Utilities say no to more renewable power in NEK

A proposed Derby Center solar farm would overload the Northeast Kingdom’s already stressed power grid, state utility officials told the Vermont Public Utilities Commission last month. Existing wind turbines and solar panels already stand idle on days when there’s too much power for the region’s power lines. Utilities oppose all new commercial renewable energy in the NEK until this problem is solved, according to the Chronicle in Barton.

Lawmakers, PUC strike wind turbine decibel deal

New wind turbines must emit no more than 30 decibels at night, or 39 decibels 100 feet away from a home, according to a new, compromise Vermont Public Utility Commission rule approved by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) Thursday, Oct. 26. 30 decibels is described by noise experts as similar to “a quiet, rural area,” and less noisy than a library (39 db).

Both critics and supporters of wind power expressed unhappiness with the new rule. Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) says the PUC overestimates the sound-dampening of home construction. Also, it is unhappy that PUC eliminated a setback requirement. Wind power industry representatives say the ruling will greatly hinder the ability to build new wind power in Vermont.

Times Argus praises Gov. Scott: ‘kindness is better than meanness’

The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, no media bastion of conservatism, had nothing but kind words for Gov. Phil Scott in a recent editorial (“A Moment’s Pause, Oct. 7). The praise wasn’t for his politics, or even for his policies, but for his personal manner:

The power of our political leaders to guide us through troubled times is limited but real. From the day of his election, Gov. Phil Scott has made a point of speaking with quiet understanding that kindness is better than meanness. He understands that a broad consensus exists in Vermont in support of common values — clean water, good schools, healthy people, affordable housing, plentiful jobs — and he has steered clear of the forces of division that would drag the state down into the mire.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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