The COP21 talks in Paris put climate change front and center. They confirmed that climate change is both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity of our generation. Coastal cities in the United States lie at risk from storm surges and sea rise. But they have it easy. Full nations in the Pacific will end up completely underwater as polar caps melt. Clearly climate change is about more than just polar bears.
In New England, we have already seen the destruction from more frequent and more severe storms. Power outages, road washouts and flooding take a serious toll on our prosperity. The quicker we come together to tackle the problem, the quicker we see results.
New England has made great strides in cleaning up our electricity supply. Through energy efficiency, we have flattened our load growth and avoided expensive and polluting new energy supplies. We are building and relying on more renewable power, and the region is poised to close the last of the coal plants in the next few years.
It is no secret that in rural areas, transportation is the biggest contributor of global warming pollution. As part of the COP21 efforts, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut joined eight other U.S. states, countries, and provinces to announce new efforts to put more zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs (battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles), on the road. You can read announcement here. The effort will strive to make all passenger vehicle sales in these places ZEVs by no later than 2050. Already, these partner jurisdictions account for about half of the global ZEV sales.
Putting a price on carbon pollution provides a valuable tool to spur innovation and tackle global warming. On the eve of the climate talks in Paris, President Obama stated that “the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on it.”
Efforts to price carbon pollution will be debated next year in the Vermont Legislature. On the eve of the climate talks, advocates delivered over 25,000 postcards and petition signatures supporting the effort to the Vermont state house. With such encouraging words from President Obama, Vermont advocates are clearly in good company.
The Vermont effort is guided by three core principles. It calls for an effective carbon pollution tax that will not only reduce emissions, but will also be equitable. Low-income people already pay more than their fair share for fuel and heating. And they bear more of the impacts from polluting fossil fuels and climate change. The Vermont carbon pollution tax will level the playing field and ensure they are part of the transition away from outdated and polluting energy. The carbon pollution tax will also create jobs and grow the economy. A portion of the tax will be re-invested to grow clean energy right here at home.
Building on the COP21 efforts, Vermont and New England can show that by working together to advance common sense solutions, cutting carbon, and investing in clean energy, we can solve even the toughest problems. In doing so we will leave a healthy and more prosperous New England for future generations.