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In Wake Of Trump's Paris Accord Withdrawal, Vermont Leaders Seek A New Path

Chittenden County Sen. Chris Pearson, left, wants Vermont to join a coalition of states seeking to affirm the United States' role in reducing global carbon emissions.
Chittenden County Sen. Chris Pearson, left, wants Vermont to join a coalition of states seeking to affirm the United States' role in reducing global carbon emissions.

President Donald Trump’s withdrawal this week from a landmark international agreement to combat climate change has sparked state-level efforts, including in Vermont, to uphold the United States’ role in a global pact to reduce carbon emissions.

Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday evening that Vermont will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a new coalition of states formed in the wake of Trump’s decision. Scott says the alliance, started by the governors of California, New York and Washington State, will work to keep the U.S. on track to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. 

“The President’s decision to withdraw the nation from the agreement only strengthens our commitment and makes the work of states more important,” Scott said in a written statement. “I am proud to join this bipartisan group of governors and reaffirm Vermont’s commitment to fighting climate change through the U.S. Climate Alliance.”

The move by Scott, who had previously been critical of Trump's posturing on the issue, follows a call by Chittenden County Sen. Chris Pearson to enlist Vermont in the alliance’s efforts.

Pearson says “the idea that the U.S. federal government is not going to be part of [the Paris agreement] is completely horrifying to me.”

But he says the U.S. Climate Alliance offers Vermont a way to continue its efforts to combat climate change.

“Cities’ and states’ leadership is needed now more than ever, and if states are going to be having a conversation about how to move forward with a collective response to the climate crisis, Vermont needs to be at the table,” Pearson says.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said in a statement that Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from a 2015 agreement signed onto by nearly 200 nations “leaves the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation.”

“While the president’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up,” Inslee said.

Pearson says it’s unlikely that joining the alliance will require any substantive policy changes at the state level, “because we already have ambitious renewable energy goals that our state is working towards.”

“But what I think could be important is our ability to help other states who maybe aren’t as far along on their own energy planning and efficiency planning, maybe we can offer some of our experience to other states, and also learn from successes others are having.”

The mayors of U.S. cities, including Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, are also forming climate coalitions in the wake of Trump’s announcement.

Meanwhile, all three members of Vermont's congressional delegation have blasted Trump's decision. Speaking on Vermont Edition Friday, Sen. Patrick Leahy said President Trump's decision to withdraw from the agreement will hurt the United States' credibility throughout the world.

Leahy says many countries were counting on the U.S. to lead on climate change, and will now question America's credibility when it comes to international agreements.

And while this country's reputation suffers, Leahy says he thinks China stands to benefit.

"They will move immediately into Europe and elsewhere to say, ‘Hey, we’re developing alternative forms of energy ... We’re finding ways to stop pollution, and you can buy these from us, don’t rely on buying anything from the United States,’” said Leahy. "I suspect they’re rubbing their hands in glee.”

Updated 5:51 p.m. to include Gov. Phil Scott's announcement.

Copyright 2017 Vermont Public Radio