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Spotlight on the Vermont Senate race 2018: How would you approach climate change?

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Posted on October 11, 2018 |
By Addison Independent



Editor's note: The response from Ruth Hardy that we published in Thursday's print edition and here on addisonindependent.com mistakenly left off the last two paragraphs of her response. It was our mistake. We are printing the enitre respone below. Appologies to the candidate.

The six candidates for the Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore were asked to comment on five important issues.

Today, for the third issue, we asked each of them to address climate change with the following prompt:

Vermont is currently on track to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050 and reduce its carbon footprint. Is that a goal you support, or would you advocate backing away from that goal? What measures do you see as appropriate to encourage Vermonters to reduce their carbon consumption? If you do not support the need to reduce carbon consumption, explain why. Write 250-350 words.

Ruth Hardy — Democrat

I support the goal of reducing Vermont’s carbon footprint and obtaining 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. The effects of climate change are already negatively impacting Vermont, with extreme weather damaging our infrastructure, heat waves straining energy supplies and impacting public health, and pollution endangering natural resources. Further, the prospect of long-term climate change is stressful for Vermont’s young people, causing anxiety about their future.

The good news is that transitioning to a clean energy economy has a positive ripple effect, promoting the local economy, stronger communities, and healthier people. We can continue improving the energy efficiency of our homes, commercial buildings, and public facilities. Several state and local initiatives are already helping Vermonters reduce heating and cooling energy loss, and upgrading our housing stock can help address the shortage of affordable homes. Maintaining funding sources such as the Clean Energy Development Fund is important.

Vehicle exhaust is the largest source of carbon pollution, so reducing reliance on cars is vital for addressing climate change, but also for public health and economic opportunities. We should expand the use of public transportation options, including school and public buses, and support regional commuter rail opportunities. We can make our downtowns more vibrant and people-friendly by installing bike lanes, and support bike commuting by establishing safe bike routes between towns.

We should invest more in Vermont-grown renewable energy sources, reducing our dependence on imported oil and gas and creating good-paying local jobs. Vermont-sized wind, hydro, and solar projects, agriculture-based energy production, bioenergy, geothermal, and other clean-tech solutions will reduce our carbon impact while encouraging sustainable local economic growth.

For many Vermonters, climate change issues are less urgent than being able to afford daily essentials. We need to be sure solutions like efficiency upgrades, public transportation, electric vehicles, and renewable energy options are accessible to Vermonters with low incomes.

While other states may lose ground in the fight against climate change, Vermonters will continue to do our part, working with regional and national partners to make advancements, while also investing in Vermont by keeping green energy dollars local.

Marie Audet — Independent

I am proud of Vermont’s commitment to the global imperative to reduce our carbon footprint. Strategies reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and sequestering carbon in our working lands and forests for meeting this goal are critical.

Let’s use residential and commercial buildings as a prime example of this. This sector contributes 23.9 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. When incentivized, homeowners and business owners can do their part to weatherize buildings, invest in renewable energy, or install efficient heating and cooling systems. In turn, career centers can develop training programs to teach Vermonters how to perform this work. Did you know there are programs intended to help low-income households weatherize their homes, but there are not enough skilled workers available to meet this need?

Transportation is another example. It is by far the greatest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions at 43.3 percent. Towns and cities must have an eye on smart growth with plans that reduce the need for vehicle use: developing walkable communities with homes, amenities, and necessities nearby, and implementing public transportation systems. Vermonters who can afford to do will be encouraged to purchase electric vehicles as municipalities create EV charging stations.

This conversation would be incomplete without agriculture, though a small contributor of carbon emissions, our working lands and forests draw down (sequester) carbon. The good news is that the same practices being adopted to improve water quality provide the co-benefits of building healthy soils and forests that we can depend on to clean the air we breathe. And I don’t want to leave out the untapped potential of our farms in providing renewable energy.

Many environmental advocates support implementing a carbon tax, but I do not believe this is the best way for Vermont to reduce and sequester carbon. Taxation is a regressive approach that will disproportionately affect rural and low-income Vermonters, many of whom have older homes and must drive long distances to work and to buy groceries. Vermonters are motivated by ethical, practical, and financial incentives. Productive, goal-oriented, community-wide initiatives will inform our personal choices until they are part of our culture. Paul Ralston and I want Vermont to be leaders in environmental stewardship, not in taxation. Together, we can do better.

Christopher Bray — Democrat

Climate change is a real and present danger. It is not coming, it is here, and it is already loading us with enormous environmental and public health costs — including an estimated 200,000 annual deaths in the U.S. from fossil fuel emissions, and the billions spent rebuilding after each “record-setting” hurricane.

In the face of this reality, we must act. Vermont has a plan — the Comprehensive Energy Plan — that established our 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 goal. We can and must shift as rapidly as possible away from carbon-based (fossil) fuels that now produce “dirty” electricity, transportation, and heat.

This may sound like grim news to some readers — but pause and consider: Do you actually like fossil fuels? Not likely. You probably actually want the electricity, transportation, and heat you get from fossil fuels.

Vermont produces no fossil fuels, so when we rely on them, we have to buy them from out-of-state and out-of-country — exporting $1.5 billion each year. Herein lies a great opportunity: rather than import this energy, we can produce it locally.

Vermont’s clean and healthy energy future is electric — and the reason is simple: we know today how to generate electricity renewably, using wind, solar, hydro, and biomass. And using this locally-generated energy we can deliver not only the electricity we need, but also the transportation and heat we rely on.

We also need to maintain our efforts to reduce energy consumption by continuing our work in conservation, weatherization, and efficiency.

Taken together — electricity, transportation, heat, and efficiency — creates Vermont’s Clean Energy Economy, which is one of the largest economic opportunities for our state. Clean energy is already the fastest-growing sector of our economy, and 18,800 Vermonters make all or some of their living in it, often earning a good wage; while the median wage in Vermont pays $21/hour, solar jobs, for example, are paying an average of $27/hour.

There is much more room for growth as we expand from replacing dirty electricity with clean, and then increasingly use that clean electricity for transportation (with electric vehicles that run on electricity that’s the equivalent of gas costing 80¢–$1.50/gallon); for heat (with electric heat pumps that are three times as efficient as oil-fired boilers); and all while reducing our needs through additional conservation and efficiency work.

None of this work is exported — it requires activity here, in Vermont, town by town, building by building, and vehicle by vehicle. And when we are building this clean energy economy, we are building a stronger, healthier Vermont.

Peter Briggs — Republican

The Shumlin administration pushed the 90 percent/2050 CO2 goal, and the legislature at the time agreed, but Vermont is not “on track” at all. CO2 levels are rising. tinyurl.com/y9m35zs6.

I cannot stress enough the difference between myself and my opponents who see expensive and unreliable solar and wind as the primary alternatives to fossil fuel generation. Instead, I would be in favor of more electricity from Hydro Quebec as a source of clean, reliable, affordable energy which would quickly reduce Vermont’s CO2 levels.

I would also encourage the use of biofuels — biological sources of renewable energy including biochar, biogas, and biodiesel. Biochar provides heat energy, as the char is produced, replacing coal and gas in electric power plants. Biochar builds soil fertility, improves water quality, and sequesters CO2 (making it the only renewable that is CO2 negative).

Biogas is available to every suburban home with systems that turn vegetable and animal waste into burnable gas. Biogas can be used for cooking, water heaters, even powering your car. On farms larger biogas generators turn manure, moldy silage and used bedding into fertilizer and biogas, which can be used to produce heat and power. Excess power can be sold to the grid.

Farms can replace the diesel they use with biodiesel produced from crops such as soybeans that can be grown on most Vermont farms. This will promote diversity, sustainability, and help balance out the over-supply of milk and hay found on farms now.

Just as we use many different kinds of fossil fuels, each with its own unique characteristics, so their replacements are going to be many different kinds, each with its own unique places where it will work the best.

Finally, conservation and efficiency are more cost effective at reducing fossil fuel consumption than solar panels or wind turbines, which require taxpayer provided subsidies worth more than the electricity produced. Vermont’s legislature should not be in the business of picking favorites, or mandating by statute the types of energy choices we make, or cars we drive, without regard to the costs vs. benefits.

Archie Flower — Libertarian

Our environment is of vital concern to all who share space on this “pale blue dot”; modern industry is equally vital, as our civilization is built upon our current energy infrastructure. We must look as far forward as we can, having learned every lesson we’re able to from our past, in order to build a sustainable future for both energy and our environment.

Fossil fuels have (as most things do) both costs and benefits. The benefits are easier to see: skyscrapers and jet airliners, cruise ships and cars, smelters and silicon chip fabricators. There is scarcely a thing we can point to in our society which is not, in some way, a result of our fossil fuel economy. But we must look beyond the obvious and think about our path forward — fossil fuels come with a steep price tag when we consider “the unseen” costs. These costs come not only in the form of pollution of our bio-sphere, but also as pollution of our market via subsidies for fossil fuels.

As the saying goes “all politics is local.” I’d extend this to “all energy is local” and “all environmental awareness is local” as well. One of the best ways for Montpelier to help Vermonters build sustainable homes and sustainable lives is to get out of our way. Reducing our total tax burden would allow us to invest in technologies for our homes like geothermal heat pumps, solar-thermal or solar-electric. Reducing our total dependence on the grid would make our entire infrastructure more robust, more secure and more sustainable.

In talking with our neighbors, I hear Vermont values echoed again and again — sustainability, frugality, individual and local control. We already want to do the right thing, Montpelier just needs to get out of the way. Individual awareness, individual action, community as well as nation-wide education — and a free market to enable these — are the ways we can move our society forward to build a new energy economy that is compatible with long term sustainability, and which works with the environment rather than against it.

Paul Ralston — Independent

Climate change is resulting in fast-developing threats. The “discovery” of oil, considered a revolutionary advancement for civilization, is now understood to be an existential concern. Interestingly, the bulk of the Rockefeller fortune accumulated when petroleum was refined into kerosene to replace whale oil for lighting — before adoption of the internal combustion engine. The whale-hunting industry was decimated by this discovery.

There is a growing concern, even a despair, over the effects of climate change. It’s honorable to be a leader in the effort to evolve our climate impact. What matters now are the choices we make that might result in a meaningful contribution in Vermont.

Carbon is one way to measure human impact. Consider the full carbon cycle. The carbon released can be partly balanced by the carbon our land sequesters. Vermont, throughout its non-native settlement history, has undergone a series of changes in our lands’ carbon sequestration capacity — the long-term locking of carbon in forests and soils. New technologies and practices can help improve sequestration. I am especially interested in the potential of biochar to sequester carbon in soils while improving nutrient fixation.

I favor public policy that will incentivize innovation and behavioral change. I prefer an incentive to switch to low-carbon fuels over a tax on all carbon fuels — just like we’ve been doing with non-fossil fuel electricity.

Efficiency and sequestration are our best, most cost-effective, least disruptive strategies. We effectively use incentives through Efficiency Vermont to encourage change in electric consumption. Unfortunately, Efficiency Vermont’s funds come from a surcharge or “tax” on electricity use. As electricity use declines, the funds available for further efficiency work also decline. Efficiency must be a funding priority, and funds must come from broader, less regressive sources.

Our economy is still dependent on truck transportation for most goods — things like food, local micro-brews, trash and recycling, and yes, propane and heating oil deliveries.

We can convert farm, forest, and consumer organic inputs (“wastes”) into “feedstock” for anaerobic digesters to make methane that can power vehicles, heat our spaces, and process our goods. Marie Audet and I believe we can do better.

Look for candidate thoughts on education in next Thursday’s Addison Independent. Click here to read more in the series.

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