Commentary: The Legislature’s Unhealthy Obsession with Greenhouse Gas Emissions (March, 2020)

By Rob RoperRob Roper

We all want clean hands, especially during this cold and flu season, but we don’t want to be obsessive/compulsive about washing to the point where our skin becomes cracked and bloody. We don’t want to become obese, but neither do we want concern for our weight to develop into an eating disorder such as anorexia. We all want a healthy planet, and we want our government to play an important role in protecting our environment, but what’s happening in the Vermont legislature today has crossed the line into what amounts to an obsessive, dangerous, and unhealthy disorder.

The Mayo Clinic’s page on anorexia describes the disease as “an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. People with anorexia place a high value on controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with their lives…. No matter how much weight is lost, the person continues to fear weight gain. Anorexia isn’t really about food. It’s an extremely unhealthy and sometimes life-threatening way to try to cope with emotional problems. When you have anorexia, you often equate thinness with self-worth. Anorexia… can take over your life….”

Now re-read that paragraph and replace the words “anorexia” with “climate anxiety,” “weight” with “greenhouse gas emissions,” and “food/thinness” with “climate change.”

This sounds like a lot of our legislators as well as many of the activists parading through the committee rooms testifying on environmental policy. Climate change – specifically greenhouse gas reduction – has taken over the life of the State House.

Vermont is already spending over $200 million a year on programs aimed at greenhouse gas reduction (weatherization, renewable energy subsidies, electric vehicle subsidies and infrastructure, other clean transportation initiatives, etc.) This is twice what we spend to pave our roads ($104 million), five and a half times what we spend on clean water ($35 million), and eight times what we spend to support higher education ($25 million). Despite this, a majority of legislators want Vermont to join the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional carbon tax on gas and diesel that would cost Vermont drivers up to another $90 million a year. This isn’t a healthy balance.

Extreme efforts that interfere with our lives? One hundred five house members just voted for the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which mandates that Vermont shed greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. The law would subvert the democratic process of lawmaking via elected representatives and empower bureaucrats at the Agency of Natural Resources to make and enforce whatever rules are necessary to meet the mandates, regardless of their impact other areas of our lives and economy. What rules? We don’t know.

GWSA is another case of having to pass the law to bill out what’s in it. But some possibilities include banning ATVs and snow machines, banning backyard barbeques, wood stoves and fireplaces, banning rider mowers and gas powered leaf and snow-blowers. They could prohibit you from cutting trees on your own property or mandate that you retrofit your home to new environmental standards before you’re allowed sell it. Whatever it takes to shed those CO2 numbers. How much would this cost? They don’t know that either and they don’t care. But it will be an astounding number.

No matter how much, it’s never enough? As Tom Evslin recently pointed out in his excellent analysis, Vermont Is Already Carbon Neutral, “Vermont’s forests may already be taking more greenhouse gasses (GHGs) out of the atmosphere than all our cars, trucks, furnaces, generators, cows, etc. are emitting.” Vermont is doing its part. We are at a healthy weight. But when these folks look in the mirror, all they see is fat.

Self-Worth? It’s obvious that the people driving this effort have cast themselves in the role of heroes saving the planet. Their sense of self and self-esteem is wrapped up in this one issue. They don’t care about anything else, such as their constituents’ ability to afford gasoline and heating fuel, or the state’s economic stagnation, or the unaffordability or availability of housing. Rep. Bob Hooper (D-Burlington) said on the floor of the house in explaining his support for the Global Warming Solutions Act that his constituents were “afterthoughts” in the climate change debate. That’s not a healthy or normal attitude regarding people whose interests you’re supposed to represent.

Our state government has many issues it needs to address: a $4.5 billion public pension liability, an education funding system that is out of control, a demographic crisis driven in large part by high cost of living just to name a few. Yet, when she became Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson (D-Grand Isle) said, “I’m asking every committee in the House to work on some piece of legislation within your jurisdiction that lessens Vermont’s dependence on fossil fuels, reduces our carbon footprint….” That’s not a healthy balance, that’s an unhealthy obsession. It’s time for an intervention.

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Virginia Wing March 3, 2020 at 12:32 am

Finally! Someone who is making sense! I certainly hope that the legislators who are behind all this carbon tax movement will take the time to sit down, read this and think about what they are asking of us Vermonters. I don’t believe they have considered the effects their efforts are going to have on all Vermonters. All this just to appear climate conscious. I cannot justify in my mind what they are trying to do!! Too much power for these people!


Justin Boland March 9, 2020 at 2:35 pm

“Vermont is already spending over $200 million a year on programs aimed at greenhouse gas reduction (weatherization, renewable energy subsidies, electric vehicle subsidies and infrastructure, other clean transportation initiatives, etc.)”

Do you have any links that break that down? Seems improbably high.


Rob March 9, 2020 at 2:45 pm

Hi Justin,
The number comes from an ongoing review by the Scott Administration of what we’re spending on climate change. What I’m referring to here specifically is Sen. Corey Parent’s, who sits on the Natural Resources Committee which deals with climate issues, legislative update. Since then the “spreadsheet” has been evolving and the latest I’ve heard it has reached $240 million. Prompted by your comment I’ve asked a member of the House Energy & Technology committee for an update. Will post when I get it. Cheers. – Rob


Rob March 9, 2020 at 2:49 pm

PS. Not sure which is more alarming, the staggering number or the fact that until now nobody in government was keeping track of the spending.


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