Robbing Economic Rescue to Fund the Climate Plan

The Vermont Climate Council and their so-called “plan” to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions were delt another blow when the national Democrats’ “Build Back Better” spending extravaganza wound up in the policy morgue next to the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). The “plan” was counting on “free” money from the feds to pay for their wish list of projects which, according to one chart presented at the Council’s December 21 meeting, tops a half a billion dollars.

So, what to do? Council member Richard Cowart proposed the following language for the formal recommendation to the legislature: “Due to the urgency of the climate crisis we urge the legislature … that the opportunity to invest ARPA funds be seen through the lens of taking actions to address Vermont’s climate goals. That ARPA isn’t just about recovery from the [Covid economic] crisis in the usual course of business. We are urging looking at this through the lens of climate change.”

Except that’s not what the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) is for. At all.

The White House’s information page on ARPA list three primary bullet points for what the money under this plan should be used for:

  • Mount a national vaccination program, contain COVID-19, and safely reopen schools.
  • Deliver immediate relief to American families bearing the brunt of this crisis.
  • Support communities that are struggling in the wake of COVID-19.


Nothing there about climate change.

ARPA funds are supposed to be used to deal directly with the emergency conditions caused by the pandemic and the government response to it. It is supposed to ensure our schools can remain open and safe, and it doesn’t look like we’ve met that goal to the point where we should be syphoning off those resources to subsidize our neighbor’s purchase of a new Prius.

ARPA funds are supposed to provide “emergency grants, lending, and investment to hard-hit small businesses so they can rehire and retain workers and purchase the health and sanitation equipment they need to keep workers safe.” How do the shops and restaurants on your Main Street look in the wake of Covid lockdowns and mask requirements? Ready to give up their promised economic life jackets so the money can be shifted to “urban tree planting” projects under the Climate Action Plan?

This money was promised to people and businesses harmed by pandemic for the purposes of economic recovery. We can argue whether or not the national debt incurred to cover ARPA payments was worth it in hindsight, and if there is money left over it should be returned to the taxpayer (or used to pay back the debt it is responsible for). But one thing should not be on the table – spending the money on a bunch of stuff it was not intended to fund. If this were to happen in the private sector it would be called fraud. The Climate Council should be ashamed for suggesting it, and our legislature should loudly declare it will have no part of it.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.


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