Climate change bills moving through Legislature

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(Host) You may have wondered what has happened in Montpelier since legislators got a crash course on climate change at the beginning of the year.

Lawmakers did introduce bills to address global warming.

And those bills are making their way through the political mill.

VPR’s John Dillon is here with a progress report.

(Dillon) The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee has now passed a bill that focuses on renewable energy projects.

Chairman Robert Dostis, a Waterbury Democrat, points out that Vermont could lose two-thirds of its energy supply in the next decade as existing power contracts expire.

(Dostis) “We’re going be in a position where we have to replace that power. Where will that power come from? If we don’t do anything in Vermont, it will come from the market. And the market is natural gas and coal, so we will increase our carbon footprint if we didn’t take action now.”

(Dillon) The House bill sets a goal for Vermont to meet 25% of its energy demand through renewable sources by 2025. The legislation sets tighter standards for energy conservation in commercial buildings and it helps wind energy developers get tax stabilization for their projects.
It also creates a tax credit for solar energy systems.

Governor Douglas says he supports the goals of the bill.

(Douglas) “It’s certainly an aggressive effort to get more renewable energy and get more independent. And I certainly agree with that. I think the bill is one we can work with.”

(Dillon) But Douglas remains opposed to the large-scale wind energy projects that the bill would encourage. He said the big wind projects could harm the state’s tourism and recreational industry.

(Douglas) “I’ve heard some people ask rhetorically, ‘how are you going to like it when you’re hiking the Long Trail and you have the constant whir of a huge 400 foot windmill next to the trail and you have the birds and bats that are being killed by the blades falling down on you while you’re hiking the trail?’ Yeah, the impacts on recreation is certainly one concern.”

(Dillon) Chairman Dostis reacted to that comment by citing a statistic often used by the wind industry.

(Dostis) “I bet you one cat kills more birds a year than one wind turbine does. The difference is what comes out of a cat and what comes out a wind turbine. We benefit a lot more from the wind turbine.” (Laughter)

(Dillon) Dostis says the state can’t afford to take any energy source off the table. And he says wind projects could keep jobs and money in the state.

Meanwhile, the Senate is working on a bill that would establish a surcharge on fuel to fund new energy conservation programs. The governor calls this a new tax. And IBM, the state’s largest private employer, opposes any additional charge on energy.

John Kane lobbies for IBM.

(Kane) “We buy a million gallons of fuel oil a year. So, a million gallons of fuel oil at I believe it’s at 1.3 or 1.4 million – a 1% charge on that is real money.”

(Dillon) The fuel surcharge bill is now in the Senate Finance Committee. Legislative leaders hope to combine both the House and Senate climate change bills into one large bill for lawmakers to consider later this spring.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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