We’re calling for Just Transition Legislation in 2022
On this page you will find what our Just Transition priorities are for the 2022 legislative session. Note that the specifics of the bills may change as the session unfolds, so keep checking for updates!
Almost daily we hear of and experience more results of the climate crisis: life-threatening heat waves and wildfires in the West, severe droughts destroying farmers’ crops, flash flooding across the East coast. The climate crisis is happening right now. We must take action immediately to stop or slow down the destruction of land and livelihoods by prioritizing people and the planet over profit.
We need to move away from our dependence on an economy based on fossil fuels to one that is based on sustainable and renewable energy. A Just Transition* ensures that we all benefit from that shift. Our Just Transition campaign builds the power of ordinary people to create the political will for policies that will ensure access for all to safe housing, healthcare, transportation, energy, food, and clean air and water.
What a Just Transition is not? Who gets left behind?
We need climate and energy solutions that:
lower our energy consumption through conservation, weatherization, energy-efficiency
develop a well-paid labor force and create new jobs
Don’t rely on market systems that will increase our dependence on false solutions like biofuels, renewable natural gas, and dirty electricity. These will 1) prevent us from reducing our emissions at the scale and rate we need to reduce them and 2) harm marginalized communities who consistently bear the brunt of the harms caused by our energy use and climate change and 3) displace, deplete, and pollute our food crops farmland and water supplies, and 4) weaken and destroy ecosystems we and other species depend on for survival.
Biofuels production often displaces food crops, resulting in increased food prices and food shortages while destroying ecosystems. When we account for the greenhouse gas emissions they produce from production to combustion, we see that they still significantly contribute to climate change.
Renewable natural gas comes from sources like Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operations (CAFOS) that release toxic chemicals that harm the health of the people who live around them. These are most often located in low-income and/or BIPOC communities.
Green Mountain Power currently sells the solar power generated in Vermont to other states in the form of the “renewable energy credits”. They do this at a profit, then buy dirty energy to Vermont’s electricity demand in return.
Large hydroelectric dams like Hydro-Quebec release significant amounts of one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane, flood Indigenous land, destroying communities and livelihood.
In 2022, the Vermont Legislature has an opportunity to lead by adopting legislation consistent with Just Transition.
Here is our analysis of where opportunities and pitfalls lie. We have put these in 3 categories:
Green Light are proposed policies that as of now are fully consistent with Just Transition Yellow Light are proposed policies that can work for Just Transition if properly designed Red Light are proposed policies that we have serious concerns with
The proposed Clean Heat Standard bill IS NOT consistent with a Just Transition as currently written:
We ask the legislature to promote heavy subsidizing of weatherization and energy-efficient and electricity based heating technology (heat pumps, solar hot water) instead of Clean Heat Standards for the following reasons:
Clean Heat Standards would mandate that fuel dealers decrease their products’ greenhouse gas emissions over time. Their primary options for reducing their emissions will be biofuels and renewable natural gas.
Fuel dealers are not regulated like the utilities so accountability and transparency will be challenging.
Biofuels currently vary in their GHG reductions benefits from little to some, but none are greenhouse gas emissions free, especially when they are produced and combusted on a large commercial scale. The use of biofuels requires transparent accounting so we can measure actual reduction impacts. And biofuels are environmentally damaging and socially unjust, threatening food stability and biodiversity.
As laid out above, Renewable Natural Gas is a false solution with damaging climate, environmental, and social impacts, can not be produced to meet our energy consumption demand, and is cost ineffective. It is a screen for the buildout of fracked gas infrastructure and for greenwashing corporate profits.
350VT can not support the Bill as drafted, for the reasons listed below. Included with each reason is an ask which, if answered, would allow us to consider supporting the Bill. Discussion of each reason is included below the list of reasons/asks.
We are asking you to pass a bill that will be proportional to the climate crisis and not further facilitate greenwashing to protect corporate interests at the expense of people and the planet. We are asking that in developing and approving the CHS you follow the Guiding Principles for a Just Transition (“Guiding Principles”). If not, Vermont will not succeed in meeting the goals of the CAP.
Reasons / Asks:
The number one priority of the CHS must be weatherization at a massive scale, prioritizing low-income Vermonters as well as a mechanism of incentives and/or mandates to ensure that renters are covered.
ASK: Include in the Bill a system promoting weatherization for all housing stock that is practical for low-income Vermonters. This system should include financial incentives for landlords to weatherize their properties, which is an action that renters have no control over.
While we support the use of heat pumps, these make sense onlyif the electric sector in Vermont is actually and honestly cleaned up. We must face the fact that the assertion in the CAP that the electric sector is “already low carbon and will be nearly carbon free and largely renewable by 2030” is not true. In point of fact, the Renewable Energy Standard (“RES”) implemented in 2017 has resulted in fraudulent accounting of greenhouse gas emissions (“GHG”) by Vermont’s electric sector.
ASK: Overhaul the RES to ensure that Vermont’s electric supply eliminates greenhouse gas emissions in fact, not just on paper.
There is no mention in the Bill of solar energy, even though this is Vermont’s most important “no carbon” renewable energy resource and should be essential to the efforts to effectively lower carbon emissions. Recent policy and rules changes have made it much more difficult and costly for individuals and communities to establish solar arrays.
ASK: Reinstate and improve on prior policies and incentives that promoted solar energy production. These should especially include promoting community solar that will benefit low-income Vermonters and renters.
Clean heat credits for biofuels must be deleted from the Bill. While credits for “renewable natural gas” (“RNG”) could be acceptable if it were produced and burned within the State, as a practical matter the potential for in state production is tiny compared to demand. We cannot support biofuel crops displacing in state food crops, particularly when Vermont farms currently produce only a small fraction of the State’s food.
ASK: Get rid of clean heat credits for biofuels, RNG and “advanced gases” from the clean heat trading system. In the coming biennium, explore alternatives that will actually drive emissions down without deforestation, disruption of the food system, or driving people off of their land, either within Vermont or elsewhere.
The Bill relies on an opaque “credit” system structure that potentially (a) allows for ongoing burning of fossil fuels, and (b) ignores harms caused by so-called “renewables,” including their significant contribution of GHG, in defiance of the GHG reduction goals that have already been enacted by law.
ASK: However the “credit” system is structured, fossil fuels MUST be phased out on an aggressive timeline. No credit system can permit – whether through purchased credits or detachment of RECs from the actual fuel or otherwise – the indefinite use of fossil fuels for heating.
The process of developing a CHS is being rushed, has not welcomed input from citizens, and is ignoring the requirements of the Guiding Principles.
ASK: Slow down the process, diligently invite input from ALL Vermonters, and make the process of developing the Bill accountable and transparent. Provide clear and understandable explanations of how the Bill will achieve its goals.
Implementation of the CHS is being delegated to the PUC, whose responsibility is to develop rules, not to establish policy.
ASK: Provide policy direction to the PUC addressing the points set forth in this letter. Require that the “technical advisory group” to the PUC include a truly independent public advocate, who does not report to political appointees and can be removed only for cause.
Weatherization at a massive scale, prioritizing low-income Vermonters as well as renters. Weatherization at scale must be the priority of the Clean Heat Standard. While the Bill appears to support weatherization, there is no apparent strategy for weatherization of rental properties (like the ordinance recently passed in Burlington) since there is no incentive in the Bill for landlords to undertake weatherization. In addition, while we support an immediate, fully funded commitment to a large-scale weatherization program that prioritizes the most vulnerable Vermonters, that funding must not be tied to an abstract and opaque credit trading system, the integrity and success of which is not guaranteed, and which may permit prolonged reliance on fossil fuels.
Promoting heat pumps does not make sense if the electricity sector is not cleaned up. The Bill is explicitly modeled on the Renewable Energy Standard (“RES”), which has relied on deceptive reporting of GHG emissions in Vermont’s electric sector. For example, the RES, implemented in 2017, has resulted in fraudulent accounting of emissions and a decline in installations of in state renewable generation, such as solar. The State’s GHG emissions inventory showed a decline of 76% in emissions between 2016 and 2018, at a time when almost no additional non-emitting generation was added to the State’s electric portfolio. It was and remains a false conclusion based on deceptive accounting practices – practices that no other state allows. The Department of Public Service acknowledges that 74% of the claimed reductions was due to the purchase of environmental attributes from Hydro Quebec, separate from actual energy. GHG emissions from Hydro Quebec are falsely counted as zero by Vermont, which is the only state to treat large scale hydro as “renewable.”
Solar energy. There is no mention of increasing reliance on our most important “no carbon” renewable energy resource – solar power. We recognize that solar power generation is more the subject of the RES than the CHS; however solar is nevertheless cogent to the CHS since the proposed standard promotes increased reliance on electricity for heating (e.g., via heat pumps). Recent rules changes have resulted in disincentivizing solar, which is unacceptable – we must reverse these policies and instead increase incentives for solar production (especially small/decentralized and community-owned). No climate action plan will be successful without investments in this truly renewable resource.
Biofuels. As pointed out in a letter to HET dated January 24, 2022 (“1/24 Letter”) (which letter is hereto linked for reference), biofuels emit more carbon than fossil fuels when the full life cycle from production to combustion is considered. Because food crops are the raw material for most biofuels, food cropland is being taken for fuel production, resulting in rising food prices and food shortages. Biomass and biofuels are extremely land-intensive energy sources, and taking food crop land for biofuel production has resulted in unprecedented deforestation and loss of critical carbon sinks, mostly outside of Vermont’s borders. By creating incentives to import biofuels, we would be adding to the burden of communities elsewhere in the world. That would be a violation of the Guiding Principles. For more discussion of the problems associated with biofuels, see the 1/24 Letter.
Credit system. How, specifically, will the Clean Heat credit system be handled under the CHS? How will trading and purchase and sale of credits be limited and regulated? How will the system identify and eliminate fraudulent certifications of biofuels like those that have been reported in other jurisdictions, including the European Union? If this isn’t explicit, detailed and clear in the legislation, we risk ending up with a system of standards, credits and offsets that results in emissions reductions that exist only on paper and not in the atmosphere. We can’t afford a CHS that repeats the flaws and failings of Vermont’s RES and the kind of REC trading and arbitrage that that system allows.
Process. The process for drafting such a complex set of rules should not be rushed. As a result of the rushed process, we question whether the full environmental impacts of the production and transport of biofuels have been considered. We note the lack of evidence from proponents of biofuels that these fuels are in fact clean and sustainable, as well as evidence that the credit system will not result in substitution of one GHG-emitting practice for another. The architects of the Bill and those that authored the CHS white paper that was incorporated into the CAP are embracing the business-as-usual thinking that has failed us in adequately addressing the climate crisis, so far. The voices of Vermonters need to be fairly represented in the creation of Vermont’s energy and climate policies, including this one.
Implementation. The Bill leaves all implementation details to the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”), along with a technical advisory group (“TAG”) drawn from the same pool that designed the CHS. The public, including experts not heard by the legislature, will be required to wait another year to provide input on the accounting of life cycle emissions, until after the PUC has drafted rules and submitted them to public comment. By that point, the policies will have been developed and the public will have been shut out from start to finish.
We understand that the legislature cannot formulate all of the policy required for a program as complex as the CHS. However, leaving all of the detail to the PUC appears to be an abdication of the legislature’s responsibility to the citizens. We would advocate that the legislature provide more policy direction to the PUC, reflecting the points highlighted in this letter.
The PUC has no experience nor is committed to designing, implementing and adjudicating a program that at its core must embody principles of equity. If, for example, the legislature does not address the question of environmental justice related to the use of biofuels in Vermont, including deforestation, disruption of food production, and dislocation of Indigenous communities outside of Vermont, then the issue will not be addressed at all.
The greenwashing that has been embedded into the delivery of natural gas in Vermont that would be further institutionalized by the CHS. For example, the PUC allows Vermont’s sole gas utility to legally sell out-of-state “renewable” natural gas for a premium to poorly informed “voluntary” customers, even though fracked gas from Canada is actually delivered. The draft CHS bill allows “clean heat credits” for out-of-state RNG, using language taken nearly verbatim from the CHS white paper, which drew upon the advice of a working group that included the current and former CEOs of Vermont Gas Systems (“VGS”). We assume the drafters of that text intend for the current VGS contracts to qualify for clean heat credits, since the white paper describes the proposal as “analogous to how VGS currently acquires both fossil and renewable gas.” For the legislature to allow that outcome would be unacceptable.
At the very least, the TAG should include a truly independent public advocate to represent the interests of the people in achieving actual and verifiable GHG reductions in the State. The tenure of this position should not be dependent on any administration (i.e., the position should not report to political appointees), and the removal of the individual holding the position should be permitted only for cause.
Environmental Justice (S. 148/H.651) – Currently, low-income and BIPOC populations in Vermont and beyond have less access to a healthy environment, healthy food, transportation, health care, and the outdoors, suffer disproportionately from environmental pollution and have the least voice in public process. The majority of Vermont’s current energy sources contribute to these social, economic, health, and environmental inequities. The Environmental Justice bill (S. 148) begins to address these inequities by establishing definitions of environmental justice, burdens and benefits; an inclusive Advisory Council with an approval role in Rulemaking, and a reporting structure to center Environmental Justice in state climate programs and funding and other state initiatives.
Keepthe original demographic definition of Environmental Justice communities in the bill
Ensure that the Environmental Justice Advisory Council has real decision-making power so EJ communities are listened to and involved in decision-making
Ensure the Environmental Justice Advisory Council has a reliable and recurrent and substantial source of funding so it can fulfill its role effectively.
In future sessions:
Establishment of “Green Justice Zones” (S. 440) – A Green Justice Zone designation would provide pilot funding for at least two communities to establish a community-led, participatory planning, budgeting, and referendum process. This process would implement projects to address social and environmental vulnerabilities in that community.
Promotion of social and racial equity in land access and property ownership (H. 273) – 76% of Vermonters of Color live in “nature deprived” areas compared to 20% of Vermonters and 72% of white Vermonters own homes compared to 24% of Black Vermonters (from Kesha Ram-Hinsdales’s testimony to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.)
Green Justice Zones and the Land Access bill would increase low-income and BIPOC people’s sovereignty over their land, home, and communities.
We need to ensure that justice is at the center of the following solutions that are being put forth in the weatherization and transportation bills:
Weatherization for low-income people first – Many low-income people, including farmworkers, live in substandard housing. We can weatherize homes in such a way that not only lowers carbon emissions, but decreases energy bills and increases basic living standards for those who have to choose between staying warm and putting food on the table.
BIPOC individuals were 7 times more likely to have gone without heat in the past year.
83% of Black and African American households Chittenden county rent vs 35% for white households.
We are asking that:
Low-income housing be prioritized – including rental housing. That means that funding and weatherization efforts should go to low-income homes first and that landlords need to be effectively incentivized to weatherize their rental units. One policy mechanism for this would be to require landlords to pay for heating costs above a maximum threshold renters should be expected to pay for heat.
Frontline communities be engaged in the design and implementation of weatherization programs to ensure community buy-in and likelihood of success
Resources be put into training and developing a work-force that is union backed and paid fair wages.
Public transportation that is accessible to everyone – We need to build out a transportation system that decreases our reliance on individual cars and makes it possible for all Vermonters to easily get around so they can get to jobs, doctor’s appointments, and meet other basic needs. Low-income rural and urban residents who don’t have easy access to transportation face more food and job insecurity. This year’s Transportation Bill should put us on the path to a zero-emissions and robust public transportation system that makes getting around Vermont easy for everyone and reduces our reliance on single occupant vehicles – including electric vehicles).
We are asking that:
Electric cars not be the primary solution to decarbonizing our transportation system
ARPA funds go to electrify school buses and public transit buses
Expands longer-distance bus schedules beyond commuter hours
We need a statewide plan that incorporates equity beyond access to electric vehicles – we need to look at our transportation system holistically to see how we are identifying and addressing mobility needs in disadvantaged and low income communities.
*What is just transition? “Just Transition is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. Just Transition describes both where we are going and how we get there.” – from the Climate Justice Alliance. Learn more at https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/