Climate Action Eclipsed by Covid-19 for #1 Priority in Legislature

April 3, 2020

By David Flemming

Yesterday, Vermont’s Senate Health & Welfare committee and Senate Education committee held a joint hearing on Youtube, with two employees from the Agency of Education, and one from the Department of Mental Health, in which they discussed when they could expect funding for various government services could come through.

The Vermont State House, Montpelier, Vermont.

Senator Ann Cummings (D-Washington), gave voice to her concerns: “we’re all talking about data and information and we’re assessing about when the (federal) funds are coming. I’m just concerned that we’re going to have tragedy out there in someone’s home. Because we’ve put parents and children and suddenly taken away their resources, for many of them we’ve taken away their money. This is probably the most stress any of them have lived under. I’m just feeling more of a sense of urgency… see if we can’t get those resources out to people even if we have to do a public service announcement on the evening news or something. I think that’s my concern. The urgency we used to be asked to have for global warming I’m now feeling for preventing a family tragedy.” Other senators in the call nodded in agreement.

While I could unpack quite a bit from this statement, the most noteworthy piece is at the end. When I hear the “urgency we used to be asked to have for global warming” the attempts of the legislature in the past few years to address climate change come to mind, headlined by the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act a few weeks ago. Just last February, which seems like an eternity ago today, it looked like climate change would continue to hoard the spotlight for “most important issue facing Vermont,” despite the exceptionally minimal impact our legislature could have on crafting meaningful policy to address climate change.

And now? Vermont has been blindsided by Covid-19. And thoughts of climate change have taken a back burner. I would certainly rather go back to the days when so many Vermonters did not lay ill from a strange, alien virus. But it does feel good to at least be in the same chapter as even our most progressive legislators, in prioritizing the health and safety of Vermonters. While we may never end up on the same page with legislators who exhibit ideologies so counter to what a truly free Vermont is like, I hope this feeling of us “all being in this together,” transcends the current pandemic.

Regardless of ideology, the coronavirus is the primary priority of all Vermonters – conservatives, liberals, progressives and independents. While we should not shy away from the debates that are sure to follow over how society and government can address Covid-19 and the aftereffects, I’m glad can at least find some common ground.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

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