Activists look for action after Scott defends Paris climate pact

Phil Scott

Gov. Phil Scott on inauguration day. File photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger

The governors of Vermont and Massachusetts have asked former Texas governor and current U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to uphold commitments the United States made in Paris a year ago to stem global warming.

Gov. Phil Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker touted in the first line of a letter to Perry that they’re “Republican Governors of states that have taken a leadership role in combating climate change.”

Perry is also a Republican, as is President Donald Trump, who promised to withdraw from the climate agreement within his first 100 days in office.

The Republican Party’s current platform explicitly “reject[s] the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement” and states that the United States is not bound by the agreements.

“All international executive agreements and political arrangements entered into by the [Obama] administration must be deemed null and void as mere expressions of [Obama’s] preferences,” the Republican Party’s platform states.

Scott has said his position evolved on climate change, but that he now believes humans are the cause of the planet warming.

At times, the governor has appeared to send mixed signals.

Phil Scott, stock car

Phil Scott’s stock car. He is also an avid bicyclist. File photo by Jasper Craven/VTDigger

Several weeks ago, when thousands of Vermonters gathered in front of the state capitol to protest Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Paris climate agreements, Scott said he planned to spend the day running laps in his race car at the Thunder Road track in Barre Town.

Last summer Scott discounted the current understanding among climate scientists, saying human activity is among numerous factors that have caused an accelerating increase in the Earth’s temperature.

It is “almost immaterial” whether humans are responsible for the change, Scott told WDEV’s Mike Smith in June.

During the election Scott and state Republican leaders lambasted his opponent, Sue Minter, for supporting a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

Minter repeatedly denied she supported such a tax, saying she instead hoped to strengthen Vermont’s involvement in an existing carbon-pricing scheme called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Vermont’s participation brings the state around $4 million annually.

Scott said the two are equivalent in his mind, saying RGGI “sounds like another tax increase.” Vermont’s $4 million annual take from the program comes in exchange for the state’s promise not to replace the shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear plant with a fossil fuel-fired plant.

Scott has also promised to halt development of utility-scale wind energy generators in Vermont, which environmental advocates say will be critical to achieving a goal in the state’s comprehensive energy plan of supplying 90 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2050.

When asked for examples of actions Scott has taken to support the Paris agreements’ goals of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 26 percent to 28 percent below emissions levels in 2005, administration spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley did not respond.

Critics say Scott has previously made statements in support of taking action on the warming climate, but without making or committing to any action.

“We’re happy that he’s encouraging the Trump administration to stay within the Paris climate [agreement] … but I haven’t seen any clear policy signals that he’s going to be strong on climate issues,” said Sierra Club Vermont’s executive director, Robb Kidd. “I have not seen any type of commitment toward those goals.”

The Vermont Natural Resources Council’s energy program director, Johanna Miller, offered a similar assessment.

“It’s unclear, because his position on the climate has changed over time, exactly where he lands,” Miller said.

“It’s promising, and I appreciate that he’s out there calling on the president to stay in the climate accord, because that’s critical,” she said. “At the same time, it’s also critical to make progress to do our part.”

“It’s unclear exactly what Gov. Scott’s plan is to tackle climate change in the state of Vermont,” Miller said. “Considering the reality at the federal level, it’s incumbent on states to lead, but I haven’t seen anything substantive come out of his administration on what that proactive response looks like.”

Greg Cunningham, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program, said that, “to be fair,” it should be recognized that Scott has been in office only five months.

Cunningham said Scott should also be credited with a “metamorphosis … from a Republican candidate who was talking the talk and using some of the rhetoric we’ve heard from climate deniers nationally.”

“That language changed during the campaign,” Cunningham said. “He had sufficient confidence and humility to come out and say [he had] changed his mind, and that it was real, and human-caused, and that it was our obligation to do something about it.”

“That suggests the potential for positive action from Gov. Scott,” he said. “But to date, there hasn’t been a huge amount.”

Baker, by contrast, has undertaken a number of significant steps toward achieving the goals he and Scott voice support for in their letter to Perry, Cunningham said.

An executive order Baker issued in September calls for a statewide plan to adapt to adverse effects a changing climate may pose to the state of Massachusetts, Cunningham said.

Baker’s executive order also sets out a timetable to adopt rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it imposes “some fairly groundbreaking” steps to dictate from what sources Massachusetts utilities get their energy and impose emissions caps on those utilities, Cunningham said.

His organization would like to see Baker go further than the governor’s administration has, but in the 2½ years he’s held office, Baker’s made some “not insignificant” progress on that front, Cunningham said.

The letter Scott and Baker signed this week “presents an opportunity” for Scott to make similar strides, Cunningham said.

Mike Polhamus

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  • Tom Hughes

    Kudos to Republican Governor Phil Scott for urging President Trump to remain committed to the Paris Climate Agreement. As the letter states, addressing climate change “creates jobs, makes our states more competitive, and makes us leaders in the clean energy economy.”

    But let’s not be naive. President Trump doesn’t think climate change is real, let alone that it represents an opportunity for America to demonstrate economic and moral leadership. Trump’s policies are bad for Vermont’s economy and for Vermonters’ health.

    This letter is a step in the right direction. It takes some guts to break with a president of one’s own party, especially when that president is as thin-skinned and vindictive as Donald Trump. But a letter alone won’t cut it. It’s time to put words into action — and an action that will create jobs, strengthen our economy and make Vermont a clean energy leader is putting a price on the carbon pollution causing global warming.

    • John McClaughry

      Mr. Hughes,let it be known, is the paid campaign manager for the VPIRG carbon tax.

  • Rob Tanner

    Meaningless, especially from a state as environmentally insignificant as Vermont.

  • Donna Boutin

    Global warming or Climate change whatever you want to call it …drought, rain, snow storms, hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes all have been happening for centuries..it’s called WEATHER…(Definition of weather, the state of the air and atmosphere at a particular time and place : the temperature and other outside conditions (such as rain, cloudiness, etc.) at a particular time and place).they say the world is changing, yes it is it changes all the time..has been from the beginning of time..but Al Gore just wanted to be a big shot, cuz he’s not a vice president anymore..

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