Obama points to Vermont as a model for carbon reduction

A recharging station for the state's fleet of solar vehicles sits at the corner of State Street and Gov. Aiken Ave. in Montpelier. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

A recharging station for the state's fleet of solar vehicles sits at the corner of State Street and Gov. Aiken Avenue in Montpelier. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

The Obama administration’s proposed crackdown on carbon emissions cited Vermont’s environmental policies as an example of how coal states can achieve necessary greenhouse gas reductions.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday released details of a proposed regulation requiring states to come up with a plan to collectively cut the nation’s carbon emissions by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.

Vermont does not generate electricity from coal and is the only state not required to come up with a plan (the District of Columbia is also exempt). The ruling targets coal-powered electric plants that are the nation’s leading source of carbon emissions, but it is intended to give states flexibility to find ways to cut carbon emissions.

The ruling cites Vermont’s energy efficiency program as an example of how states can reduce carbon emissions. The state’s regulated efficiency utility, Efficiency Vermont, offers rebates and incentives for energy-efficient appliances, among other efforts.

“Vermont is leading the way,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Senate environment and energy committees. “I congratulate Efficiency Vermont for being cited as a national model and for other efforts underway in Vermont to address global warming.”

The utility in 2013 cut Vermont’s electricity sales by about 1.6 percent, which represents about $12 million in retail value, according to an Efficiency Vermont report.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said he was pleased that Vermont’s efficiency program was mentioned as a way to cut carbon emissions.

“Vermont has led the nation on energy efficiency and is reaping the benefits of lower electric bills, good jobs and a cleaner environment,” Welch said in a statement.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said Vermont has already “faced several emergency-level storms that are proof of a changing climate.” In the Northeast, climate change is causing “increases in heavy precipitation and resulting damages to property and infrastructure, heat waves that threaten public health, and stresses placed on our unique ecosystems,” he said in a statement.

Among a menu of possible options cited by the EPA to cut emissions is a Northeast carbon cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Vermont has earned more than $12 million by selling so-called carbon allowances since joining the program in 2009. The state uses 98 percent of this money for thermal efficiency incentives.

Shumlin said the EPA ruling “points the nation in the same direction Vermont and our neighbors have already pursued” through the RGGI program.

Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race have announced their plan to join RGGI as part of their environmental platform. The EPA’s ruling will make it more likely that Pennsylvania, which generate the most power from coal in the Northeast, will join the program.

Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Justin Johnson represents Vermont on the RGGI board. He said other states joining the program will only make it stronger.

“There will be more allowances. There would be more people looking to use them. It would make it a stronger market,” Johnson said.

The program works by setting a “cap” on carbon emissions for the region. States “trade” credits at a value placed on each ton of carbon the region emits. As the region brings down its cap, the price to purchase these credits goes up.

The nine states partcipate in RGGI are: Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.

Johnson said if a new state were to join the program, the board would have to adjust the region’s emission cap and reset how fast it plans to bring the cap down.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., applauded the EPA’s ruling as an important “step” to combat climate changes caused by heat-trapping carbon emissions. He said the long overdue limits on carbon pollution will be good for future generations.

“This historic step is not based on theory but on sound science and long experience with the effects of this major, unchecked source of pollution in communities across the nation,” Leahy said in a statement. “This is tangible progress in turning the corner toward a healthier and more sustainable clean energy economy.”

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John Herrick

About John

John Herrick joined VTDigger in June 2013 as an intern working on the searchable campaign finance database and is now VTDigger's energy and environment reporter. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. He wrote for the Vermont Cynic, university’s student newspaper, before interning and later freelancing for the Burlington Free Press.

Email: jherrick@vtdigger.org

Follow John on Twitter @herrickjohnny

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