VNRC Asks for Leadership on Climate Change

VNRC Asks for Leadership on Climate Change

By Elizabeth Courtney

April 24, 2007

In January, the Vermont House and Senate leadership set the tone for this legislative session when they made climate change the top priority. And on the national front, every member of our congressional delegation is poised for action, by supporting the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act.

On April 14th Vermonters and other Americans participated in Step-It Up 2007, creating a groundswell of support for action on climate change. At rallies across the country, tens of thousands of people made Step It Up the largest grassroots demonstration on climate change in the United States, ever. In Vermont, more than 3,000 people participated in events from Brattleboro to Burlington.

U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, Congressman Peter Welch, Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and Speaker of the House Gaye Symington all committed to the Step It Up pledge, outlining a goal to achieve 80 percent carbon reductions by 2050.

As Step It Up architect Bill McKibben notes in his new book, Deep Economy, a climate change responsive world will be different. But with ingenuity and a shift in the way we view progress and prosperity, our world could very well be better. But it will take leadership and courage to change.

One troubling detail: Our governor, Jim Douglas, is the only one of the state’s top six elected officials who did not sign the Step It Up pledge. And, so far this session, he has yet to express support for any significant legislation to reduce Vermont’s carbon footprint.

On the State House steps of Montpelier’s Step It Up rally, cries of “Where’s the governor?” reverberated against the Golden Dome. The silence from the governor’s office was deafening.  The governor often argues that he is leading on this issue; that he has taken steps to address climate change. He points to his support of a lawsuit against the auto industry and the Climate Change Commission that he convened and charged with recommending actions Vermont can take to reduce our carbon emissions 50 percent by 2028. These are certainly good first steps. But the governor’s lack of support for key, concrete, legislative initiatives, now on the table, that would take vital steps forward, is deeply troubling.

Take, for instance, the transportation bill that would have strengthened our public transit systems and provided new more efficient buses through a one-time, $150 surcharge on brand new “gas-guzzler” cars that get less than 20 miles per gallon. Hundreds of Vermonters testified in favor of this bill with its funding mechanism designed to target more luxurious and polluting vehicles. With the Governor threatening a veto, it was taken off the table.

The Legislature is also considering a bill that would expand efficiency programs to cut down on heating loss from leaky Vermont homes and businesses. The program could save homeowners, on average, $400 a year by helping to conserve increasingly expensive heating fuels, while creating clean, green, high-paying jobs at the same time. Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin just this week offered a proposal for a new funding source for this bill, that has the support of many Vermonters. But, as of this writing, the governor’s still not for it. This stance begs the questions: Does the governor want to be part of the solution? If he does, then for what does he stand? Where is the governor’s leadership voice?

Step It Up has set the stage for a new and powerful movement. Yes, responding to climate change will make our lives different. But it can also make our lives better. We can create opportunities for true prosperity and independence that we have not known in our lifetimes. Most Vermonters are pressing hard for action. But the need for leadership on this issue from the highest office in the state has never been more critical. Vermonters are asking you to Step It Up, governor. We need you to Step It Up for all of us.