“I don’t think Vermonters understand the Mack truck that coming at them… They don’t understand how this is going to impact their lives and what it’s going to cost."
- June Tierney, Public Service Department Commissioner and Climate Council member
HELP US EDUCATE MORE VERMONTERS ABOUT WHAT IS IN THE CLEAN HEAT STANDARD
In 2020, the Vermont legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) (Act 153) over the veto of Governor Phil Scott. The basic crux of the law mandates that Vermont must lower its greenhouse gas emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% below by 2050. Authorized by the GWSA, the 23-member Climate Council released its "Climate Action Plan" in December 2021. Perhaps the foremost pillar in the Plan was the "Clean Heat Standard." During the 2022 legislative session, Vermont's Legislature took most of the Climate Council's recommendations for its Clean Heat Standard (CHS) bill. The CHS would have made obtaining adequate fossil fuel based heating fuel much more expensive and difficult, an effective 'carbon tax.' Due to the efforts of Vermonters across the state and political spectrum, the Legislature fell one vote of overriding Governor Scott's veto of the Clean Heat Standard on May 10, 2022. Just 6 days later, the Climate Council reiterated their support for another attempt at the Clean Heat Standard in 2023.
While the Clean Heat Standard did not pass in 2022, the GWSA still grants legal standing for anyone, Vermont citizen or not, to sue the state and claim attorneys' fees at Vermont taxpayers expense if Vermont does not act quickly enough, in the perception of Vermont judges.
Parts of the Clean Heat Standard
KEY ELEMENTS OF THE CLEAN HEAT STANDARD:
Joint Fiscal Office's Note on H.715
- Weatherize 90,000 Homes by 2030. There are a number of problems with this target. First is the cost, which could be in the billions. (One council member cited $10,000 per home, or just under $1 billion, and another cited a total estimate of $2 billion.) There is also the fact that the labor force and other necessary resources do not currently exist in Vermont at a scale that would make the timeframe for this mandate realistic.
- 100% Renewable Energy Mandate by 2030. The plan also calls for ramping up existing regulations on electricity — requiring Vermont source 100% of our electricity as a state from renewable or carbon-free sources by 2030
FROM THE SCOTT ADMINISTRATION:
The Debate: Arguments for and against the Clean Heat Standard
“The IPCC has found that climate crisis is both caused and exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions that result from human activity. The IPCC has determined that industrialized countries must cut their emissions to net zero by 2050, which is necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to below 2°C. A climate emergency threatens our communities, State, and region and poses a significant threat to human health and safety, infrastructure, biodiversity, our common environment, and our economy” (GWSA).
Vermont must help accelerate solutions that address the climate crisis in the absence of federal action. By implementing climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience strategies, Vermont will also position its economy to benefit and thrive from the global transition to carbon neutrality and national and international efforts to address the crisis. Delaying necessary policy action to address the climate crisis risks significant economic damage to Vermont. (GWSA) Under the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020 and 10 V.S.A. § 578, Vermont has a legal obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to specific levels by 2025, 2030, and 2050. 72 percent of Vermont’s thermal energy use is fossil-based, including 43 percent from the combustion of fossil gas and propane and 29 percent from the burning of heating oil.
It also needs to do this equitably, recognizing economic effects on energy users, especially energy-burdened users; on the workforce currently providing these services; and on the overall economy.
To meet the greenhouse gas emission reductions required by the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020, Vermont needs to transition away from its current carbon-intensive building heating practices to lower carbon alternatives .
The Clean Heat Standard, administered by the Public Utility Commission, is the most efficient and effective method of stimulating switchover from fossil fuel heat systems to alternative emissions reduction solutions, such as cold climate heat pumps, advanced wood pellet heat, and home weatherization. By issuing Clean Heat Credits to persons and businesses facilitating such switchover, and creating a marketplace where fossil fuel distributors can acquire the credits needed to meet their obligations under the Act, the PUC can stimulate and manage the necessary switchover.
Most knowledgeable people agree that barring natural cooling effects (such as aerosols), the average global temperature is likely to increase by one degree C by 2100, and that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide will make a significant contribution to that trend. Many however, do not characterize this prospect as a “climate emergency”, and indeed, compared to the cooler earth of 150 hundred years ago, a warmer earth in 2100 will bring offsetting benefits.
However, there is no reason to believe that reducing Vermont’s heating and transportation emissions even by 100% will have any detectable effect on that temperature, especially in view of the fact that two 1500 Mw coal burning electric plants now being built in China will emit more CO2 that all human activity in Vermont combined.
The Clean Heat Standard, as recently candidly described even by its leading Senate advocates, is another carbon tax. It will be imposed by the unelected Public Utility Commission in such rising amounts needed to achieve the GWSA emission reduction requirements. It will be borne in the form of higher heating oil and gas prices paid by Vermont families, businesses, farms, municipal governments, hospitals, schools and many others.
Like all retail level taxes on essentials, the CHS costs will be regressive, claiming a higher percentage of income of low and moderate persons and families.
The PUC will have complete control over the amount of clean heat credits to be issued, and ultimately paid for by consumers in the form of higher heating fuel costs. This is unacceptably threatening when heating fuel prices are rising to record levels.
The January 2019 Resources for the Future report commissioned by the legislature concluded that no imaginable level of carbon taxes would drive down CO2 emissions to Vermont’s targeted levels, and the economic welfare losses from a significant carbon tax would be offset only by imagined “climate benefits” accruing to the entire planet. Vermont should not beggar its people by forcing them to shoulder the burden of carbon tax schemes where the benefits, if any, accrue to the rest of the planet, most of which is not requiring similar burdens of its people.
As the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association has found, the actual workings of registering fuel suppliers, tracking every gallon of fuel throughout its journey to combustion, issuing and keeping track of marketable clean heat credits, intercepting unregistered importing of fuel, and enforcing “non-compliance payments” (fines) will be an extraordinary difficult and costly administrative burden.
Carbon Tax Timeline: How did Vermont get here?
- 2006 Legislature adopts Act 168. It sets a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 50% of their 1990 levels by 2028.
- 2011 Gov. Shumlin’s Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) sets a goal of 90% of all Vermont energy from renewables by 2050. (Often referred to but never actually adopted by vote of the Legislature.)
- 2014 VPIRG promotes H.412 to create Energy Independent Vermont, and yield $500 million in carbon tax proceeds by 2024. Not voted upon.
- 2014 Vermont Yankee nuclear plant ceases operations forever, removing the largest source of low-cost CO2 emissions free electricity from Vermont.
- 2015 Comprehensive Energy Plan update appears. EAI comment: "The new plan’s vision of a state obeying the Shumlin Decree (90% renewable by 2050) can only be achieved by heroic, costly government intervention into the energy market, over the growing protests of taxpayers and ratepayers called upon to finance the ever expanding renewable industrial complex.”
- 2016 House votes to double tax on heating oil and propane to fund weatherization; Senate declines the tax increase.
- 2017 Gov. Scott joins Climate Action Alliance, creates Climate Action Commission. Its report in 2018 declines to endorse a carbon tax.
- 2018 VPIRG and other groups promote the second major carbon tax plan, the ESSEX Plan. Not voted upon.
- 2019 Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI-P) unveiled by Georgetown University Climate Law Center. (November).
- 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act passed by House (Feb. 2020) and by Senate (June 2020) Gov. Scott vetoes it (September 2020) and his veto is overridden (Sept. 2020). If, moving forward, Vermont fails to meet emissions reduction mandates (26%, 40% and 80% below 1990 levels by 2025, 2030, and 2050) the GWSA grants legal standing to anyone, citizen or not, to sue the state and claim attorneys' fees at Vermont taxpayers expense.
- 2021 TCI-P collapses when three New England governors back out.
- Dec. 2021 VCC releases Climate Action Plan With TCI-P and its expected revenues gone, VCC shifts emphasis to reducing CO2 emission from heating fues.
- Oct. 2021 Richard Cowart of VCC and Chris Neme release final draft of Clean Heat Standard. (H.715). CHS pays businesses and persons effectuating switches of fossil fuel heating systems to electric heat pumps, advanced wood pellets, and other qualified projects. PUC requires heating oil and gas distributors to purchase clean energy credits created and distributed by PUC, a cost passed on to heating fuel customers. As amended by the Senate, the CHS plan presented in late 2023 could be carried into operation only after a vote of the legislature in 2024.
- Apr. 2022 Gov. Scott vetoes the Clean Heat Standard
- May 2022 Legislature fails to override Gov. Scott's veto by 1 vote.
Check out the mailer we sent to 10,000 Vermonters (in 2021, when gas was $4 a gallon).
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EAI takes a different view of the Climate Action Plan than the Climate Action Network, at least nine of whose members are among the 15 legislative appointees to the Climate Council.