Commentary: A New Front in the Endless Battle Against Climate Change (June, 2019)

by John McClaughry

The Long Range Transportation Plan of 1995 reaffirmed as the highest priority the maintenance and improvement of Vermont’s highways and bridges. Hardly anyone disagreed. But beginning in earnest in 2006, climate change activists have succeeded in progressively shifting the emphasis of transportation policy toward reducing CO2 emissions and defeating climate change.

Gasoline and diesel fueled-transportation contributes 43% of Vermont’s carbon dioxide emissions. This year’s Transportation bill announces this controlling policy:

“This act includes the State’s fiscal year 2020 transportation investments intended to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, reduce fossil fuel use, and save Vermont households money in furtherance of the goals of the Comprehensive Energy Plan, and to satisfy the Executive and Legislative Branches’ commitments to the Paris Agreement climate goals.”

The Paris Agreement established CO2 emission quotas for 195 countries, and obliged developed countries like the U.S. to collectively hand over $100 billion a year to persuade the others to pretend to comply. It was signed by President Obama in 2015 but never sent to the Senate for ratification. President Trump bailed the U.S. out in 2017, and after four years only seven of those 195 countries are actually on track to comply. Under pressure from enviros, Gov. Scott announced in 2017 that Vermont will, in a gesture of climate solidarity, drive down our emissions to our pro-rated share of the U.S. contribution.

Most of the $286 million (plus Federal funds) in the FY2020 Transportation will of course continue to pay for highway and bridge maintenance, but a trip through the Transportation bill shows how the emphasis has shifted.

The climate activists urgently believe that Vermonters must be lured or taxed out of their gasoline and diesel vehicles in favor of electric cars. Thus the bill offers more Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV) purchase and lease incentives “to help all Vermonters to benefit from electric driving, including [of course!] Vermont’s most vulnerable.” If your family has under 160% of the 5-year average Median Household Income, you can qualify for subsidies to allow you to buy a PEV that costs up to $40,000.

After three studies, the legislature has still not figured out how to make PEV drivers pay anything at all for using the public highways. The present bill does allow state agencies to set fees for the electricity downloaded from state charging stations, which is an improvement over the present practice of just giving it away.

Of special interest is the 17% increase in public transportation spending, which includes $1.884 million (!) to pay for two (!) electric transit buses for the Burlington area, and $480,000 for two electric shuttle buses for the Montpelier area. Other new “low-carbon spending initiatives” include 77 bike/pedestrian projects and increasing the number of electric vehicles in the 734-vehicle state fleet from 54 to 367.

The bill mandates  a study of a “feebate” program, whereby persons who buy larger and  safer but less fuel-efficient cars are charged a “fee” (aka “tax”), and the proceeds are rebated to the purchasers of smaller, less safe, more fuel efficient, and more electrified vehicles.

Then there’s the eternal passenger rail fantasy. The bill assigns $5.2 million to upgrade the Rutland to Burlington track for future passenger traffic. The memory of Gov. Dean’s $28 million Champlain Flyer boondoggle seems to have vanished beyond recovery, along with a million dollars worth of improvements pocketed by the owner of the Burlington train station.

Particularly interesting is the requirement of a study to support a seven mile (!) Barre to Montpelier commuter rail project. This was urged upon legislators by wind and solar mogul David Blittersdorf, who bought five elderly self-propelled Budd cars and wants to convert them from museum pieces into income-producing assets.

Finally, the bill endorses the Scott Administration’s participation in the group designing the Transportation Climate Initiative. This will be a multistate cap-and-trade plan regulating and taxing the transportation use of fossil fuels. Each state would use the windfall proceeds to pay for “low-carbon and more resilient transportation infrastructure.”

When Democratic candidate Sue Minter proposed a TCI in a 2016 campaign debate, Scott immediately and correctly labelled it a carbon tax. Why he is actively supporting TCI development now remains a mystery.

There are some useful provisions in the bill, notably excusing 16-year-old vehicles from computerized inspection failures that have nothing to do with safe operation. But overall the bill illustrates how defeating climate change and suppressing CO2 emissions have come to overshadow the basic function of AoT – to preserve and maintain a network of highways to meet the transportation needs of the Vermonters who are paying the bills.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

John V LaBarge June 18, 2019 at 3:35 pm

Hi John,

Good editorial on the Cal. Record regarding the transportation bill. Kitty and I have own 10 acres of land in Morgan where we have a camper and campsite. We bought it 12 years ago and head to the NEK as often as possible.

Last weekend we were at camp and I had to go to Lyndon to drop off more of my books about Cola. On the way back to Morgan we took Rte. 5. The road was in horrible shape along with many other roads are in the NEK. Like Rte. 100 from Newport to Westfield.

For 12 years we have driven by old guard rails made of wood posts with rusty cables through them. many are broken and have fallen down and have been that way for nearly a decade. These are south bound on Rte. 100 in Eden.

My question is, where and the hell are the Senators and Representatives from the NEK? They should be screaming at Phil Scott and Secretary Flynn trying to get a share of their money instead of it all pouring in to Chittenden County and surrounding areas of Chittenden,

Maybe you should do an article and tell the Reps. and Senators all to get off their asses and start squeaking to get some transportation dollars and don’t take no for an answer. Represent their people and their area! Living in the Islands which is Mazza’s district, I can tell you Rte. 2 is wonderful and has been for 30 years.

John LaBarge


Thaddeus Cline July 1, 2019 at 10:01 pm

The the electric cars on the market are as safe or more safe then all the so called regular cars . That’s just plan a fact you seem to miss. ( and from what I can see you just , like Trump lied about it )
The price of driving and maintaining one is much lower then so called regular cars .
Who would not like to spend less then 85 cents a gallon for the same as you would for a gas car . And way less maintenance . The Length they can go on a charge keeps climbing , many are over 250 miles now . And you can stop and get a fast recharge in 1/2 an hour at 80 % of what you need to go the rest of your way . Many models are selling well under 30,000 now and some come with 100,000 guarantee on the most expensive parts .
As more get on the road we of course will find a way to tax them so you can get the same income from them as any other so called regular car .
Apparently you don’t follow much news of weather and climate change . Or you’d have seen 114 degrees in France and fires in Florida and the Arctic.
A recent hurricane would for most people mean they would be thinking and doing things that might not let that happen again and save all of Vt. Money . Last time I checked that’s what this conservative web site wants . Saving money for all of us in the this state.
What you convenientlay leave out is how much this would save if the less fortunate Of Vermonters get good reliable cars and insulated homes . You know ? Less healthcare costs , less welfare , better school attendance . And the jobs that come with a better climate solution.
Conservatives threw out the south west and Florida are finding out how well doing smart environment work also helps there bottom line . From wind power to solar and smart energy activity’s rate payers are saving big time . And companies are doing much better with smart energy moves . A win win last time I checked .
It’s not really hard to see who you are really a mouth piece for . Not your average Vermonter but the oil gas and coal industry who would like nothing better then the status quo .
Over and over we see the same thing coming from your site . Simply trying to trick those that need something into believing the exact opposite is what they need .
Fortunately most Vermonters even the less fortunate have good educations and see right threw what your game really is .


William Hays July 1, 2019 at 10:33 pm

Apparently there is no hope for “Lefty Loon” Thad to find a remedial English program (I think he needs to go back to ‘Day #1’) that would make reading his posts less painful.


Allan Morrie July 2, 2019 at 2:42 am

I bet Thad is from out of state. If he wants Vermont to be like his state, he should move back there and leave us Vermonters alone!


Jim July 3, 2019 at 12:10 am

Spin, spin your wheels. Little ole Vermont is tilting wind mills. Hi ho Don Quiote Vermont will be in the vanguard of the fight against global warming. Again, I ask, who pays for the installation of EV charging stations, who pays for the electricity consumed at these stations, what kind of energy will be used to generate the recharging electricity??? Nough asked, never answered.


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