They’re all talking about the same thing

Deb Markowitz, Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources:

We must address the causes of climate change and prepare for its inevitable impacts. We need to plan, and we need to act. Vermont has an opportunity to lead this effort.

Shap Smith, Speaker of the Vermont House:

“We are going to have to make very, very difficult choice choices around issues that involve our climate and climate change, and how it’s going to impact not only our economy but the way we live and the way our state looks,” Smith said. “We can’t shy away from it because other people are. We can’t say that because the rest of the country is deciding not to take action, that we will not.”

And Peter Shumlin, Governor of the Great State of Vermont:

“There isn’t a Democratic governor who doesn’t understand climate change is the challenge we must focus on like a laser,” he said.

Of course, the Governor used the same analogy elsewhere about a different issue:  “Shumlin also told House Democrats to “focus like a laser” on health care implementation.”

But never mind. The Governor, the state’s top legislative leader*, and its top environmental official were all talking about the same thing last week: a focus, laser-like or not, on fighting climate change.

*Ahead of Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell.

I have to say, I like it. While the chattering class in Washington obsesses endlessly about the deficit, the truth is that climate change is a far more urgent threat. Even if you’re talking strictly dollars and cents: the way things are going, weather-related disasters will have a much greater impact than shortfalls in Medicare or Social Security or the alleged perfidy of the Chinese.  

What does this mean for legislation in 2013? As Peter Hirschfeld of the Vermont Press Bureau reports, expect a new push for weatherization of Vermont homes:  

“Where we’ve done very well in Vermont is efficiency that has anything to do with (electricity) running into the home,” Shumlin said. “I think where we have failed is in thermal efficiency, and I’m working together with my team to try to find ways to speed up our progress in thermal efficiency.”

The Ieglslature passed a bill in 2008 that set a goal of weatherizing 80,000 homes by the year 2020, a goal Shumlin is still hoping to meet. Problem: not enough funding. At his news conference last week, Shumlin conspicuously left the door open to a tax on home heating oil: while reaffirming his opposition to increases in “broad-based taxes,” he admitted that a heating-oil tax wouldn’t meet his definition of a broad-based tax.

And, judging from the general tone of the three leaders’ remarks, expect a strong continued push for renewables — including utility-scale wind. Shumlin, speaking last week at the Democratic Governors Association meeting in California:

“We’re harnessing the wind, our sun, our streams, and our fields to get off of our addiction to fossil-burning fuels,” he said. “It’s not only a moral imperative, but it’s an economic jobs opportunity. The industrial revolution created huge amount of jobs, the tech revolution created a huge amount of jobs – and this is the same thing.”

The Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission is still a work in progress — it’s due to issue a report to the Legislature no later than April 30 — but if this flurry of top-level urgency on climate change is any indication, it’s hard to see how the Administration would be willing to slow down or significantly limit opportunities for expansion of wind and other renewable energy sources.

Shap Smith believes Vermont can be a leader on fighting climate change, just as it’s been on some social issues. I hope he’s right. Somebody’s got to do it, and it ain’t gonna be anybody in Washington.  

6 thoughts on “They’re all talking about the same thing

  1. We have what is a rare opportunity to speak the words that dare not be spoken on the national political stage: “climate change.”  And we have a chance to make a difference right here.  

    True; we are a tiny state, and far from the worst offender; but because we can speak like grown-ups about this enormous threat, there is hope that we will address the things that are fixable…like developing a public transportation infrastructure throughout the state that will truly make single passenger car-trips wholly unnecessary.

    That is one place where we can make a huge difference.

  2. in building a worldwide movement if UVM and the state’s pension fund both divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies. We’re having good luck catalyzing what is quickly turning into the biggest student movement in decades (see… and Vermont can and should be a real leader. Kesha Ram and Chris Bray seem poised to take leadership roles on this, which is great news.   (And in the private sector we’re very hopeful Middlebury College will play a similar role)

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