Editor’s note: This commentary is by Paul Burns, who is the executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group in Montpelier.
The global climate crisis didn’t end on Nov. 8 and it isn’t forecast to get better on Jan. 20. Donald Trump seems to be hell-bent on reversing America’s progress toward a cleaner, more prosperous energy future. The nonsense he spouts about coal being clean and climate change being a Chinese hoax aren’t just harmless tweets. This is propaganda designed to undermine the foundational principle of both science and journalism that “facts matter.”
Vermont can’t afford to follow Trump down his reality-denying rabbit hole. In fact, we need to move as quickly as possible in the opposite direction and embrace the clean energy future. Here’s why:
First, clean energy is good for Vermont’s economy.
As Republican Gov. Jim Douglas’ Commission on Climate Change wrote in 2007, “The time for debate over the realities of global climate change is over. Global climate change is occurring, and every Vermonter will experience its impacts on the quality of life for which Vermont is justifiably famous. Today, our ability to ‘keep Vermont, Vermont’ is at grave risk. … If properly seized, however, climate change action can provide an unprecedented economic development opportunity for Vermont.”
Under Gov. Douglas, Vermont joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) along with seven other Northeast states – and that initiative is paying off. A recent study by the Acadia Center found that, “member states have reduced emissions 16% more than other states and seen 3.6% more economic growth.”
Instead of sitting by while Trump destroys the atmosphere, Vermont should be strengthening RGGI and expanding the carbon pricing model to transportation and heating fuels.
Second, clean energy is good for Vermont jobs.
Renewable energy and energy efficiency create jobs. Vermont had a 3.2 percent unemployment rate in November 2016, well below the national average of 4.6 percent, and much of our success in putting people back to work since the Great Recession is because of growth in clean energy.
Over 17,000 Vermonters – 6 percent of the state’s workforce – now work in renewables and efficiency, and the rate of job creation in this sector of our economy is 10 times faster than the economy as a whole. Vermont has the most clean energy jobs per capita in the nation – meaning we have the most to lose if Trump’s fossil fuel agenda is implemented here.
Vermont has the most clean energy jobs per capita in the nation – meaning we have the most to lose if Trump’s fossil fuel agenda is implemented here.
Third, clean energy makes Vermont more affordable.
Due, in part, to job growth in renewables, energy storage and efficiency — Vermont’s median household income increased 5 percent in 2016 and the poverty rate hit its lowest rate since 2008.
As Vermonters have deployed solar power and wind power and weaned our electric supply off fossil fuels, Vermont utilities have held costs down – even as rates have soared in neighboring states. Today, Vermonters enjoy some of the lowest rates in the Northeast.
This success is in no small part due to forward-thinking utility leaders like Mary Powell at Green Mountain Power, the incredible work of Efficiency Vermont, and the dedication of the state’s low-income weatherization agencies — who all work to make Vermont homes and businesses more economical and energy efficient.
Fourth, clean energy is a core Vermont strength.
When Vermont established the nation’s first energy efficiency utility in 2000 it was a cutting-edge innovation. A decade and a half later, in addition to saving Vermonters millions of dollars each year in electric costs, VEIC now exports its knowledge and expertise around the world – bringing business home to Vermont.
Today, we’re home to hundreds of clean energy enterprises. Burlington Electric has become the first utility in the nation to source 100 percent of its power from renewable sources such as Georgia Mountain Community Wind and the Winooski One dam, while rates in Burlington are lower than most utilities that still rely on fossil fuels.
Fifth, clean energy is key to “keeping Vermont, Vermont.”
Climate change is big and it’s scary. Unchecked, Vermont summers in 2100 will be like Tennessee’s today and Vermonters born in 2016 will spend more than $750,000 dealing with the costs of global warming. There will be more refugees, larger natural disasters, dirtier water and more stress on our health care system.
But addressing climate change will mean thousands of new jobs for Vermonters, a stronger, more vibrant economy, and less pollution fouling our air.
Donald Trump wants to move America backward. That’s not the direction Vermont should go.
Vermont’s elected leaders should redouble our commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency and fight against any retreat on clean energy. That’s what VPIRG and its 40,000 members will be doing in 2017. In this Trumpian era, we remain committed to our goals and values — rooted in facts and data — and will continue to inform and mobilize citizens statewide to promote and protect the health of Vermont’s people, environment and locally based economy.