Levine: The next steps for climate action

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Along with California, the New England states can drive home positive action to tackle climate change. With the Trump administration in Washington rolling back federal protections, it is more important than ever for states, communities and individuals to act.

For nearly a decade Vermont has seen strong Legislative action advancing renewable energy, energy efficiency and reducing polluting greenhouse gases. Our past efforts have earned Vermont a solid and well-deserved reputation for action. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently ranked Vermont second [http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/increase-renewable-energy/momentum# ] in taking positive action and showing the way for other states.

The past few months have shown signs of that momentum slowing. The Vermont Legislature took little action on climate change this session. A new pipeline now brings fracked gas deeper into Vermont, and regulatory rules diminished, rather than strengthened, the availability of renewable energy. There is no question continuing this trend moves Vermont in the wrong direction.

At the same time, Vermonters by the thousands are speaking up about the need to take bold action. In April over a thousand high school students from more than 20 schools came to the Vermont statehouse to learn and speak out about climate change and the need for action. Close on the heels of that event was the Vermont People's Climate March where thousands of Vermonters gathered on the statehouse lawn to highlight the need for climate action.

Now is not the time to rest on Vermont's past success or take a pause in our commitment to tackle climate change. Our actions need to match our resolve. In doing so we will strengthen our economy, keep Vermont affordable and take care of the most vulnerable.

The coordinated actions of states and communities show a sensible path forward. One bill the Vermont Legislature did pass provides a valuable backstop to potential rolling back of energy efficiency by the Trump administration. Vermont joins California in keeping appliance efficiency standards in place even if the federal standards change.

Next year, the Vermont Legislature and Governor can take up the four bills that put a price on carbon pollution and reduce other taxes — sales, property or income taxes — or provide dividends for all Vermonters. These bills set a bolder course of action that combines a fairer tax system with cutting pollution. Pricing carbon pollution while returning the money to Vermonters provides a market solution to the climate crisis. It makes sure our economy prospers while delivering real value to the middle class and the most vulnerable. As a solution heralded by conservative economists and businesses, as well as environmentalists and low-income advocates, it is a true win-win.

The momentum for pricing carbon pollution continues to grow in New England as other states look at the options and realize the benefits extend beyond tackling climate change. A recent study in Massachusetts from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that a state carbon fee being considered by the Massachusetts legislature saves $2.9 billion in health benefits and 340 lives between now and 2040. Reducing pollution from fossil fuels cuts asthma and heart attacks.

As New England states look to rely more on clean energy for electricity, a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission technical conference highlighted a consensus developing for carbon pricing. [http://www.utilitydive.com/news/the-carbon-consensus-generators-analysts-back-co2-price-at-ferc-technical/441862/] Among many competing proposals to reduce carbon — including nuclear subsidies and preferential contracts — there is growing support that including a carbon price in the wholesale electricity markets is an effective, practical and fair way to integrate varied state carbon and clean energy policies into how we buy and sell electricity.

Marches and protest signs highlight the commitment of many Vermonters to stand by and support stronger action to tackle climate change. Our leaders, regulators and lawmakers have the tools and the growing support to put into place sensible carbon pricing solutions. Doing so delivers many benefits for our climate, our health and our economy.

Sandra Levine is a Senior Attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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