Hanzas & Pearson: Leadership needed at every level of government to combat climate crisis

This commentary is by Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, and Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, the outgoing co-chairs of the Vermont Legislature’s Climate Solutions Caucus.

Over the last couple of years, the Vermont Climate Solutions Caucus has become one of the biggest caucuses in the Vermont Legislature — and the biggest issue-focused caucus in the body. 

This broad coalition of lawmakers is dedicated to advancing cost-effective and equitable energy policies so  Vermont does our part to help combat the climate crisis. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, written by the world’s leading climate scientists, has made it abundantly clear the importance of this work: “It’s now or never” when it comes to staving off the worst effects for future generations 

That means it’s all hands on deck — community by community, state by state, nation by nation. We must all do our part to minimize the costs and consequences of our warming world, especially on those Vermonters and global citizens who’ve done the least to create the problem. 

This will require unprecedented, systemic change — especially in the policy and regulatory arenas — to ensure greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2025 and are halved by the end of the century. This necessitates concerted, collaborative and consistent leadership at every level of government. 

Unfortunately, last week the Supreme Court sided with big polluters, limiting the EPA from setting the kind of highly effective emissions standards we need. The decision also underscores why we must be working at every level of government, including here in Vermont, to combat climate change and reduce our emissions. We cannot afford to wait. 

In many ways, Vermont is in an excellent position to do our part, mainly because of the progress that has been made in building and implementing a framework for action. The Climate Solutions Caucus fought hard to help craft and enact the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2020, which created an overarching framework for action and legally binding emissions reductions requirements for Vermont and set the stage for the state’s first required Climate Action Plan. 

Adopted in December 2021, the Climate Action Plan outlines a suite of necessarily ambitious mitigation, adaptation and resilience measures for legislators to advance, the executive branch to implement, and communities to embrace to chart a more equitable, stable, affordable and sustainable economy and society.

Recently, as required, the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office published its analysis of what the state’s new Climate Action Plan means for Vermont. Its “Brief Report on the Climate Action Plan” explains “if emissions are reduced as outlined in the CAP, Vermont’s economy and people are expected to reap net benefits of approximately $6.4 billion over 30 years, primarily in avoided costs, relative to the business-as-usual case.” 

In other words, investing now is the smart move. Which is why we need a reliable partner at the federal level. The Vermont state budget that passed in May contains record investments in climate impact strategies. To continue on the right path, we need sustained investments. 

And, right now, the window is closing for Congress to step up at this critical moment on climate action. We recognize and thank Sen. Leahy, Sen. Sanders and Congressman Welch for their long support of job-creating, health-enhancing, equity-equalizing climate action. We also urge their ongoing leadership at this pivotal moment, and we ask Congress to take swift, decisive action to pass $555 billion in investments for climate, justice and jobs to lower price-volatile energy costs and support families and communities.

There is no more time to wait. Every year — every day, really — increases the costs and consequences of insufficient action and delay. As we close this chapter on our legislative careers, celebrating some significant climate and justice successes this past session, we also know our hardest work is ahead. And doing that work well will require the engagement, partnership and creativity of all people — and all levels of government.

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