Since its founding 40 years ago, Ben & Jerry’s has worked hard to reduce our impact on the environment. We understand that investing in our communities and protecting our natural resources is not in conflict with a successful company and a deeply loyal fan base, but a driver of both. As a Vermont company that sells products around the globe, the way we transport goods is critical to operations and a large part of our environmental footprint. That is why we strongly support efforts to modernize the region’s transportation system and reduce harmful emissions.
The United States now emits more greenhouse gases from transportation than from power plants. Here in Vermont, transportation emissions account for the largest slice of Vermont’s climate pollution at 42 percent. States across the region are stepping up to take action, and Vermont must do its part to keep pace with its neighbors.
In November, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott joined six other states and the District of Columbia to announce a plan to work together to develop a new regional policy approach to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Then, just last month, legislators in state capitals across the Northeast announced state-based efforts to price carbon for heating and transportation. Here in Vermont, that effort is called the ESSEX Plan.
The ESSEX Plan is a thoughtful proposal that would greatly benefit our state by delivering clean energy and low electricity rates for all Vermonters. Unfortunately, Gov. Scott rejected recent recommendations made by his Vermont Climate Action Commission to study carbon pricing mechanisms like those proposed in the ESSEX Plan. This decision is discouraging, and we believe that Scott can, and must, do better. He still has an opportunity to show his commitment to reducing Vermont’s carbon footprint and meeting the state’s reduction goals for greenhouse-gas emissions by tackling emissions from the region’s transportation sector.
Creating a more modern and efficient transportation system will allow Vermont to grow its economy, protect the environment and improve the health of its residents, while also reducing dependence on foreign oil.
Vermont has long been a national leader in reducing pollution, and the state has seen firsthand the benefits of investing in a cleaner energy system through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first carbon pricing program to reduce pollution from power plants. RGGI has helped cut emissions from power plants in the Northeast by more than 40 percent, while growing the regional economy by $2.9 billion. Thanks to RGGI, Vermont has been able to invest in energy-efficiency programs that are estimated to have avoided the emission of 138,859 short tons of carbon dioxide and saved individuals $115 million on their energy bills over the lifetime of those investments. While states have made significant progress to cut pollution from power plants, there has been limited progress on efforts to cut emissions from the transportation system. In fact, due largely to increases in transportation pollution, Vermont’s carbon emissions are four percent higher now than they were in 1990.
Recent analysis shows that carbon pricing policies like these would add billions of dollars to the regional economy, reduce carbon emissions and improve public health. In addition, because Vermont has no petroleum reserves, every effort made to lessen the state’s dependence on fossil fuels increases our energy independence — which, in turn, provides economic stability, predictability and prosperity. Modernizing the transportation sector and decarbonizing the Vermont economy will be a major undertaking. Ben & Jerry’s is committed to doing our part. That’s why we have implemented an internal price on carbon pollution and support policies that encourage more-efficient freight trucks. However, reducing climate pollution is not something companies can do alone. We need strong policies if we are to achieve significant carbon reduction throughout the region. Our peers from the Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy Network agree, as do our Vermont colleagues from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Gov. Scott’s dismissal of carbon pricing is disappointing. Let’s hope he jumps at the opportunity to lead the regional effort to reduce transportation emissions. As past success with regional carbon pricing has shown, economic growth and carbon reduction can and will go hand-in-hand.
Chris Miller is the activism manager at Ben & Jerry’s, which is a member of Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy Network and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.