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House Committee Mulls Forcing Employers to Reduce Commuter Traffic

By Guy Page

March 9, 2020 – The Vermont House Transportation Committee is shelving – for now – a plan to require Vermont employers to participate in “the statewide reduction in single-occupancy pleasure car trips.”

Virtually all cars are defined by state law as “pleasure cars.”  The aim of the legislation is to decrease the number of Vermonters driving to work alone in their so-called “pleasure” cars, in pursuit of carbon emissions reduction. More than 76% of Americans (including those living in large metro areas with robust public transportation) commute to work alone in their cars, according to a Brookings Institute study. 

As first drafted in the work-in-progress House Transportation Bill, employers of 50 or more would be required to develop a ‘transportation demand management plan’ to ‘reduce vehicle trips. Examples include telecommuting; incentives to carpool, walk, bicycle, or ride public transit; and staggered work shifts.’ A Feb. 26 revision instead creates and funds a pilot program for selected employers of 500 or more to implement an 18-month pilot transportation demand management program.

Transportation demand management is most advanced on America’s populous, Red State west coast, in cities such as Seattle, WA and Santa Monica, CA, according to Smart Growth America. 

The proposed T-bill also includes:

  • State funding for incentives of up to $2500 for a household earning up to $125,000 and $4,000 for households earning up to $50,000 for the purchase of electric vehicles (EVs) valued at $40,000 or less.
  • State funding for a dealer incentive of $400 per sale or lease of each qualified EV
  • Plans for a per-kilowatt charging fee at charging stations.

Besides the House Transportation Bill, other energy-related bills are likely to see movement in the final half of the second year of the 2019-20 biennieum. 

The Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688) recently passed the House 105-37 and turns Vermont’s goals for carbon emission reductions into requirements. It requires:

  • Appointment of a Climate Council within 60 days of H688 becoming law, and the council to meet within 30 days after that;
  • An emissions reduction action plan developed by the Climate Council by Dec. 1 2021
  • Administrative rules from the Agency of Natural Resources to enact the plan by Dec. 1 2022

If the State fails to meet emissions reduction goals, environmental groups can sue the State for non-compliance, and a judge may order them to comply. 

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) said she likes plenty about the bill – notably its insistence that Vermont not only reduce carbon emissions but also build adaptation and resiliency to changing weather patterns – but she abhors the legislature’s willingness to let the state bureaucracy and the courts make the tough calls. 

“Frankly, the Global Warming Solutions Act as currently drafted is the legislative equivalent of the Staples “Easy” button,” she wrote in a report to her constituents. “The majority of the House overwhelmingly approved this bill, and seemingly don’t believe that tghis ceding of our authority is problematic. Remember, though, the majority of the House also supported Act 46 [leading to an appointed board forcing school mergers] and seemingly didn’t believe that ceding of our authority was problematic.”

S220 requires workers in the trades, engineers, architects, real estate industry workers, and other building-related industries take energy-related courses as a condition of licensing and license renewal.

A renewable energy standard bill requiring a “Fortress Vermont” 100% renewable, instate electricity – (S.267) has been discussed in Senate Natural Resources and Energy and is now in Senate Finance Committee. Vermont transmission grid officials say it would add $1.2 billion over five years in power demand management alone. The bill would limit the role of out-of-state zero carbon power generation such as Hydro Quebec and New England nuclear power. 

An “all-fuels” efficiency bill (S.337) now in the House moves efficiency utilities to go beyond electricity and into thermal and transportation sectors. This subject will be discussed at the quarterly annual meeting of the ISO-New England Consumer LIaison group Thursday, March 12 at noon at the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock. Lunch is free but reservations are required

The Senate Transportation committee is developing a bill to commit Vermont to the regional Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), if certain trigger criteria are met. TCI would raise the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel bought at the pump and deliver revenue proceeds to renewable power, energy efficiency, and public transportation programs. Presumably the “trigger criteria” include participation from other states, which isn’t happening. New Hampshire and other New England states are backing away from subjecting their residents to a transportation carbon tax. 

S282forest carbon sequestration, is in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Energy. The bill would add staff to help landowners sell ‘carbon storage credits’ and study the possibility of enrolling state lands in a “carbon offset” market. 

California already has a robust forest carbon sequestration market, but the Vermont Forest Products Association winter newsletter wonders why we shouldn’t work harder to put Vermont emissions reduction first. “Would it not be more in our interests to count storage of forests in Vermont against Vermont’s carbon emissions? Vermont forests absorb 47% of all carbon emissions, so aren’t we half way there?”

For any bill to move forward this session, legislative rules (which can be waived) say it must be voted out by all relevant policy committees by March 13, and approved by a money committee —like Appropriations or Ways and Means — by March 20 if it includes any proposed spending, taxes or fees. After those “crossover” deadlines, policy ideas can still be tucked into other bills that are on the move. 

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Copyright © 2020 Guy Page, All rights reserved.

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