The legislature’s enactment of the Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act is another troubling example of how massive changes in Vermont are being engineered these days, whether the democratically elected governor likes it or not.
This particular measure (Act 59) establishes State goals of conserving 30 percent of the land of the State by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050. It requires the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to develop an inventory of the existing conserved lands in the State and a plan on how to reach the ambitious goals.
The new law defines “conserved” lands as enjoying permanent protection of intact and connected ecosystems – to put it crudely, “Humans! Out!” Gov. Scott vetoed the bill last year but this year, facing a veto proof Democratic legislature, he allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
Let’s look at some recent history.
When Gov. Scott took office in 2017 he pleased the climate change advocates by creating a Climate Action Commission. To the dismay of the advocates, his Commission stopped short of recommending their heart’s desire, a carbon tax. When it became apparent that Gov. Scott would be easily reelected (as he has been three times so far), the climate advocates conceived a new “Bypass Scott” strategy.
First was the Global Warming Solutions Act, which replaced a CO2 emissions reduction goal with an enforceable mandate. It also created a “climate government within the government”. The 23-member Vermont Climate Council has 15 members appointed by the Democratic legislature, 14 of which could drive climate policy making, outnumbering Scott’s eight statutory members.
Scott vetoed the GWSA as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. The legislature overrode his veto. In December 2021 the Climate Council issued its sweeping 265-page Climate Action Plan. When the multistate Transportation and Climate Initiative gas and diesel fuel tax plan collapsed, VCC’s top priority became the enactment of a Vermont-only Clean Heat Standard.
That bill required the three-member Public Utility Commission to design and carry out a complicated scheme to make heating fuel customers pay higher prices to subsidize conversions to electric heat pumps and “advanced wood heat”. The governor vetoed the CHS as a disguised carbon tax, which it was. The House sustained his veto by a single vote in 2022.
This May the legislature enacted the Council’s CHS planl, relabeled the “Affordable Heat Act”, over Scott’s veto. The act assigned its implementation not to the Scott administration, but to the Public Utility Commission, chaired by a climate change alarmist who has put decarbonization ahead of the Commission’s historic job of protecting gas and electricity ratepayers. The $2+ billion CHS program was thus located largely beyond the governor’s reach.
The principal CHS “default delivery agent” for “clean heat credits” will be Efficiency Vermont, controlled by the nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. The chair of the VEIC is Richard Cowart, creator of the CHS plan and a legislatively-appointed member of the VCC.
The Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act of 2023 will lay the groundwork for the coming comprehensive state land use control system. Its aim is to “conserve” 50% (4,800 square miles) of Vermont from humans meddling with ecosystems. That will diminish if not confiscate the rights of thousands of private property owners. It will be designed and possibly implemented by the government-funded Housing and Conservation Board. Four of its eleven members were appointed by the governor, and none of them are directly accountable to the people of the state.
Let’s concede that the PUC and the H&C Board do some useful things. The underlying question is: what accountability do these organizations have to the elected governor? For comparison, if the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) messes up plowing the state highways, that will blow back onto the governor.
But the powerful, well-funded environmental organizations, employing (at recent count) 42 lobbyists in Montpelier, have persuaded the Democratic legislature to implement far reaching state policies - on the climate crisis, land use, ecosystem protection, and the rest of their list of fashionable progressive causes. This is where the “Bypass Scott” strategy has taken us.
The governor still has resources to slow down or thwart the climateers. But at least in this important sector of state policy making, he is no longer the policy leader who wins elections by delivering on proposals attractive to a majority of voters.
What the people want, how much they are willing to pay for it in tax dollars, how many rights are they willing to see abridged, and who will be held democratically accountable when the show slides off the rails, is of concern to a governor facing reelection. For the Bypass Scott crowd, not so much.