GWSA Passes Out of Energy & Technology Committee

February 14, 2020

by Rob Roper

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) bill passed out of the House Energy & Technology Committee on a 7-2 vote and moved to the House Appropriations Committee. Here’s how the bill is shaping up as it moves through the system. In some respects, the bill has been watered down significantly (good!), but it still retains many undesirable and impractical provisions.

The greenhouse gas emission goals that would be put into statute as mandates for the state to achieve would be by:

2025 – reduce by 26% relative to 2005 (Based on the Paris Climate Agreement)

2030 – 40% reduction relative to 1990 (Based on the Comprehensive Energy Plan)

        2050 – 80% below 1990 (Based on the Comprehensive Energy Plan)

The GWSA would establish a twenty-two member board that would establish the strategy by which the state will meet these mandates and make recommendations to the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), which would be responsible for making and implementing the rules by which the state will reach these mandates. However, if the board fails to agree upon a plan or doesn’t come up with one at all, ANR is still responsible for meeting the mandates. This last dynamic seems pretty odd. How is ANR supposed to meet the mandates without a plan to do so?

New Taxes? The legislature would have to be involved if the board or ANR recommends new taxes to meet the mandates. Any new taxes, such as a carbon tax, would have to pass through the normal legislative process. (So, good luck with that!) Additionally, if ANR or any other agency requires expanded rule-making authority to meet the mandates, the legislature would have to officially grant that authority. There was some disagreement between the committee and legislative council about how broad the authority ANR currently has to achieve these mandates. The committee asserted that ANR already had broad authority to implement rules; legislative counsel believed the current scope of authority was much more limited.

Cause of Action. The right of citizens to sue if the mandates are not met, and the ramifications of such actions, is arguably the most controversial part of this bill. A big change from last year’s GWSA proposal and this one is that lawsuits can now only be directed at the state. Unlike the first proposal, a citizen (or more likely a special interest group such as VPIRG or CLF) could not sue a fuel dealer or any other private business under this law. This version of the bill also prohibits the court from awarding the plaintiff any damages, financial or punitive, if they prevail. However, the bill still does provide the possibility for the winner of any lawsuit to recover legal costs from the losing party. No inquiry was made as to how much this could potentially cost the taxpayers. Lawyers ain’t cheap!

Another crucial point: judges would be prohibited from proscribing policy as the result of a lawsuit. If a plaintiff brings a case and wins, all the judge would be able to do is affirm that the state has not met its mandate, and issue a stern statement to “work harder.” This is a good provision that ensures elected legislators remain responsible for making policy, not judges. (Also good!)

However, one has to wonder from the advocates’ perspective, if through this would-be-new legal process there will be no punishment for failing to meet the mandates leading up tp the lawsuit and no means to enforce the mandates following the lawsuit, what’s the point of this bill at all? It’s essentially where we are now, except for the fact that the taxpayers would be on the hook for paying the salaries of VPIRG’s, CLF’s, etc. legal teams. (Is this the real point of the GWSA? A way for politicians to funnel taxpayer dollars to preferred special interest groups. Umm… Yeah.)

Costs: The Appropriations request over the next two years, the planning phase, is just under $1 million. The money would go to hire three new full time employees at ANR – staff director, data analyst, legal role for $336,000 per year, $50,000 for per diem expenses per year, and $200,000 one time money for outreach and consultants. Because that’s what Vermont needs is more taxpayer funded bureaucrats making over $100K per year and a slush fund to feather the nests of special interest “consultants.” But, the real question is what it would cost and what the rules might be for achieving these proposed mandates. On that score we hear only crickets.

Conclusions: While at this point the GWSA could aptly be re-named the Greatly Watered Senseless Act, it is still a highly flawed concept. Legislators are being asked to put the state in the position of having to meet specific greenhouse reduction goals, based on an unknown set of rules to be determined by ANR, without any idea of what those rules might be or how much implementing them will cost, or what their impact might be on the broader economy. And, putting the state/taxpayers in some legal jeopardy if the goals are not met. Under any circumstances, this is an insanely irresponsible way to govern.

At its core, the GWSA is stupid idea and should be swiftly scrapped. But, if there are political considerations that need to be taken into account, perhaps a prudent measure would be to replace the existing bill with a study examining what the rules and the costs of meeting these GHG goals would look like first, before the legislature commits to make meeting them mandatory. Vermonters deserve this level of transparency from their elected officials regarding a policy that its proponents admit will turn our economy and our way of life on its head.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Daly February 14, 2020 at 4:31 pm

Thank you Rob, Very good summary. I can read as many articles and scientific studies that this whole Global Warming is not the threat we are led to believe. What if we pay for all this and get no results?

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Roger Joslin February 14, 2020 at 7:03 pm

Exactly. This is all nonsense and will upend this state which is already overregulated and over taxed.

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William Hays February 15, 2020 at 5:10 am

The poor little state s already over-regulated and over-taxed. That is quite obvious, yet the ‘loons’ continue their progressive ways. Enough!

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GUY PAGE February 14, 2020 at 10:27 pm

Great summary, Rob.

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Ted Robinson February 14, 2020 at 10:55 pm

These legislators are the product of Vermont’s education system as are the people who continually vote them in. Think about it. A political sadomasochism.

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Lynne Caulfield February 15, 2020 at 1:38 am

How come no one is asking the obvious like,” how are we going to prevent neighboring states carbon laden air from entering into Vermont’s air space?!!” I would like all the legislators to go visit Uganda or Haiti or Ecuador to remind them we all breathe the same air and drink the same water!!

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thomas moorewell some February 15, 2020 at 9:55 am

well none of this means a thing senitor sanders said the world is done in Ten years so why the hell are we doing a 50 year plane we will all be DEAD

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david gaiser February 16, 2020 at 12:36 am

One day, hopefully soon, the people of Vermont will wake up and decide that allowing the takeover of the State by the socialist/communists/democrats decades ago was a huge mistake. Too many have become cowed by the “free stuff” mentality. They seem to be unable to put facts together. When the state gives you one dollar for a need, they took 10 dollars to pay for it. Our state was operated properly back in the day when Dick Snelling was alive. Since that time, we have continued to be overtaxed, overregulated and overrun by stupidity in Montpelier. Vote them all out including Bernie, Leahy, and Welch or we are doomed to become like Venezuela. Global warming is a political movement, not a reality. Please stand and fight the lies of the left and the poisoning of our children’s minds with this rubbish.

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Anne M D'Olivo February 19, 2020 at 7:46 pm

Your comments are one-sided. To understand the GWSA, it is necessary to look at the entire proposal. One major point overlooked in your article is that the GWSA is equitable. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the climate crisis disproportionately impacts rural and marginalized communities. The mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies of the GWSA will prioritize the investment of resources to these communities. All regions of the State will benefit from the planned reduction of GHGs, and will share in the resulting economic, quality-of-life, and public health benefits. Through the work of the Climate Council, the State can take coordinated and strategic action to reduce energy burdens for low-income and rural Vermonters, build resilience, foster innovation and create jobs. It will do so by adopting research of scientific and technical experts to find the most cost-effective pathway. According to the IPCC and the World Bank, “a failure to substantially reduce emissions over the next ten years will require even more substantial reductions later and will increase the costs of decarbonization. Delaying necessary policy action to address the climate crisis risks significant economic damage to Vermont.” Moody’s Investors Service is now analyzing the adaptation and resilience strategies of issuers of state and municipal bonds and may apply a negative credit factor for issuers with insufficient strategies. Establishing robust adaptation and resilience strategies for Vermont will help protect the State from a climate crisis-related credit downgrade. And note that the Vermont Climate Action Plan is to be adopted on or before July 1, 2021, and updated every four years thereafter. In the meantime, there will be plenty of discussion in the legislature and throughout the state by those concerned.

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Rachel Williams March 9, 2020 at 12:56 am

Sen. Chris Pearson replied to my email with his comments inserted into my message. He says the legislature will vote on each rule, that law suits will not cost the taxpayers, that Vermont gets 7″ of rain more each year, that Irene and the Halloween storm are the result of climate change, not weather and that cutting CO2 emissions will stop these unpleasant events that are costly. Here is his email:
Rachel,
We will, no doubt, continue to disagree over the wisdom of this bill. Still, there are a few points that may be of interest to you – I’ve added them below.

Best,
Chris
________________________________
Christopher Pearson
State Senator

On Mar 2, 2020, at 9:34 PM, rbwilliams11 . wrote:

Dear Sen. Pearson,
Thank you for your response to my email. I’d be happy to explain further my concerns.
To begin with, the premise for this action is false. I’ve done extensive research over many years on the subject of man-made global warming, reading both the mainstream studies/data/reports claiming there is a climate crisis and those that dispute that conclusion. You know as well as I that the proposed reduction in CO2 emissions will have no impact on global climate, nor will it make any difference to climate (or weather) within Vermont. The only sure impact will be an increased cost of living for all Vermonters – regardless of schemes to give rebates back to selected people. Our small businesses will suffer as well, becoming less competitive. GWSA will also discourage new businesses from starting or moving to Vermont, continuing the decline of good paying jobs in the private sector. And as for the particulars, while a Climate Council would come up with a plan (who are these government officials and citizen “experts”, and how are they chosen?),

Pearson wrote: The bill outlines who choses the people, it is typically the governor. We have similar boards and commissions that help us look at poverty, women’s issues, etc.

the Agency of Natural Resources would be “empowered” to create and implement new rules for achieving the plan – which removes any further input from the reach of the public and under the control of an unelected bureaucracy.

Pearson wrote: At the end of the process, any rule proposal, any policy proposal and any funding for anything all comes through the legislature. There is no change here, just a coordination of folks that will come up with the plan to put in front of lawmakers.

Furthermore, the provision that citizens or special interest groups may sue the State for not implementing the mandates quickly enough could be very costly to Vermont tax payers, not to mention the inevitable increase in government spending to implement whatever rules/programs the Agency of Natural Resources comes up with. Seems to me the GWSA would be an uncontrolled money pit, hitting Vermonters with higher taxes on top of the higher cost of everything else such mandates will cause – housing, heating/cooling, gasoline, to name a few. If the Legislature tried to come up with a way to drive more people out of the State and scare off new residents, GWSA is a brilliant plan.

Pearson wrote: We are paying for in-action today. We are still paying for Irene, as an example. And for the flooding this past Halloween. Ask farmers how they are coping with the 7” of increased rain each year. Ask the ski areas and sugar makers what they think of the impact of climate change? They are often saying the impacts are significant. Even Winn Smith, a former owner of Sugarbush, supports this bill. The ski industry is on the front lines and knows the potential damage un-checked emissions will have on their bottom line.

Pearson wrote: The law suits are very limited. There are no damages. There are no lawyers getting rich here. But there is an accountability mechanism so Vermonters can hold the state responsible for living up to the promises. A successful lawsuit will have a judge mandating a stronger plan, or implementation of rules, etc.

I must conclude that proponents of GWSA have either not done their homework thoroughly on the subject of climate change, past the propaganda, or it’s another example of mandatory virtue signaling along party lines. I can understand the pressures that come to bear on legislators in this regard. It would take courage to think and act independently. What I can’t understand is the failure to recognize the abdication of our representative power to an Agency in the Executive branch and the virtual disenfranchisement of Vermont voters. The GWSA is a rotten proposal on many levels, and I pray you will have the courage to vote NO.

Pearson wrote: There is no abdication of power, simply the empowerment of a council to help us plan for solutions.

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