The Legislature is doing a wonderful job of compartmentalizing problems, so sure that partisan sleepwalking is the best strategy for all kinds of political problems.
Problem #1: Climate change. Solution: Vermont should pass the Clean Heat Standard which outlines how fossil fuel heating will be replaced by more palatable alternatives, thus reducing Vermont’s CO2 output.
Problem #2: Home improvement fraud of undecipherable scope. Solution: create a registry which forces middle income contractors to pay a fee each year, and somehow make this list available to consumers so that they can hire a ‘reputable’ contractor. (Never mind the fact that the Legislature has yet to make good use of the fraud-prevention tools they do have). There doesn’t seem to be any conflict between these legislative solutions, right?
The Legislature hired the Climate Council to draft the Climate Action Plan containing the Clean Heat Standard, which readily admits that electrification of the home heating sector will require a five-fold increase in the labor force to meet its CO2 reduction 2030 goals, as mandated by the GWSA. Something that, in order to have an outside chance of happening, will need a bit of government encouragement.
Well, they passed the Clean Heat Standard (despite a looming governor’s veto). Perhaps the next step to pushing the Heat Standard along is to remove employment barriers for green home improvement contracting? No such luck.
Lauren Hibbert, Director of the Office of Professional Regulation Senate Economic Development, offered her testimony to the Senate Housing and General Affairs Committee explaining the categories of home improvement contractors who will be forced to register: “…work on any residence of four or fewer units to build, demolish or alter… weatherization, installation of heating, plumbing, solar, electrical, water or waste water systems… HVAC installers, wood burning (stoves)...”
Sadly enough, many of the contractors who are absolutely essential to making the Clean Heat Standard work could soon be told that they aren’t trustworthy enough as a group to make such installations. They need a government ‘stamp’ of approval to do their job legally. As any student of economics knows, making it more difficult for individuals to practice their profession will reduce the supply of workers in that industry.
So there you have it. The H.157 will undermine the Clean Heat Standard by reducing the number of workers available who have the expertise to install Heat Standard friendly heat pumps, solar water heaters and the like.
Perhaps some of the legislators who voted for H.157 last year will realize the contradiction. But House leadership has scheduled an override of the Scott veto of H.157 of the bill next Wednesday.
In order to have a prayer of making the Clean Heat Standard work, legislators will need to restrain their partisan knee-jerk reactions against their suspicious-looking neighbors who work in the dreaded private sector. If they can’t, the registry’s passage could be just the first salvo against the private sector. The economy could fall apart, sacrificed for nothing as the Clean Heat Standard will fail to meet its emissions goals. And legislators will have only themselves to blame.
David Flemming is a energy policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.