Op-ed: Healthy Vermont Economy, Healthy Vermonters, Healthy Planet

Bram Kleppner, DanforthBy Bram Kleppner, CEO, Danforth Pewter

Climate change threatens to destroy everything you care about. It is the one of the biggest threats to prosperity and security we have ever faced. If we lose the fight against climate change, every other cause becomes lost. The good news is that addressing climate change will strengthen Vermont’s economy, improve Vermonter’s health, and help stabilize the planet’s climate.

The science can’t be any clearer. The more carbon we put into the atmosphere, the more cost we will all bear in terms of the damage to crops, houses, and infrastructure from violent weather; the more we will all suffer from disease spread by invasive insects and polluted air; the shorter and less reliable our ski season and sugar season will become; and the more our foliage will fade.

We all have a role to play in reducing our carbon output as quickly as possible. The company I lead, Danforth Pewter, has committed to zero emissions. We’ve built a solar farm, and installed our first heat pump, and are working on every other facet of our operations that uses fossil fuels. But while we are doing our own small part, no company or group working alone can impact emissions on the scale necessary to stave off this crisis. That’s why we look for every opportunity to partner with other businesses, community groups, and local and state governments to advocate for and push forward change across whole sectors of our economy: transportation, heating and cooling, energy production, manufacturing, construction, and agriculture.

Every level of government — from neighborhood councils and city governments to state governments and multi-state coalitions to national governments and multi-country organizations — must also move as quickly as it can on two fronts: first, by moving its own substantial buildings and transportation fleets to zero emissions as quickly as possible; and second, by creating the programs that will move its jurisdiction to zero emissions as quickly as possible.

Our own Vermont state government is no exception. In fact, Vermont lags behind other states in our region and has failed to meet the emission goals the legislature has put in place for our state. Fossil fueled transportation accounts for almost half (44.5%) of our climate change emissions in Vermont, and we are the only state in the region to have failed to meet the goal of reducing our emissions below 1990 levels. Vermont, we can do better. We must.

The most impactful thing that Vermont can do right now to address climate change and take advantage of the opportunities it presents is to join the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). TCI is a multi-state initiative to reduce transportation emissions by 30% by 2032. It includes allocating at least 35% of program proceeds to ensure that overburdened and underserved communities benefit equitably from clean transportation projects and programs. In other words, it presents an opportunity for us to make Vermont more affordable for our most vulnerable citizens. In fact, TCI would bring between $20 and $60 million into Vermont every year, allowing us to invest in modernized, cleaner and more affordable transportation solutions.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and DC have already announced their commitment to join TCI.  Vermont, along with six other East Coast states, formally committed to continuing with negotiations toward joining TCI. It is time for Vermont’s Climate Council and administration to make Vermont a full-fledged member of the TCI. Vermont and the other members can all help each other engineer a transition to a clean transportation system that makes sure all Vermonters participate in the financial, environmental, and health benefits of that transition.

In the choices we make today, we are choosing among many possible futures. Let’s choose the best one.

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Bram Kleppner is the award-winning CEO of Danforth Pewter, with manufacturing in Middlebury and retail stores acrossfive states. He formerly served on the Vermont Tax Structure Commission and the Governor’s Business Advisor Council on Health Care Financing, and served for five years as Co-Chair of the Vermont Medicaid & Exchange Advisory Board. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and the University of Vermont.