Flemming: A climate emergency power grab — one scenario

By David Flemming

If we’ve learned anything from the past year, it’s that governors across the country have more power during “states of emergency” than absolute monarchs did 500 years ago. A week ago I wrote about how Vermont has the worst legislative oversight of the governor’s emergency powers in the country.

How could that impact Vermont, practically speaking? Simply this: If we don’t transfer more power from the governor to the Legislature during emergencies, the future could be catastrophic for Vermont democracy.

Wikimedia Commons/Gillfoto

At least with Covid, there is a conceivable end in sight as cases start to fall. Not so with climate change, the Forever Emergency.

With some exceptions, most Vermonters have been plenty happy with how Gov. Phil Scott has handled the Covid emergency, re-electing him by a higher percentage than any governor since 1950. But let’s say Scott runs for the U.S. Senate and a progressive wins the Vermont governorship in 2022. What’s to stop a progressive governor from declaring a “climate emergency” and ruling by hundreds of executive orders in 2023?

In a December commentary, Rep. Curt McCormack, D-Burlington, said “if the Covid-19 pandemic can reduce our carbon emissions in one month by the same amount as we need to reduce per year, 7%, to avoid catastrophic climate change, can we not do this on purpose, in an orderly well-planned fashion?”

Governor Scott was able to order all non-essential businesses closed for two weeks a year ago, enough time to ensure than some of them never open again, no legislative approval needed. A Vermont governor has the legal authority to declare and end emergencies through their own personal judgment. Our Legislature has no say in the matter.

Forty-six states give their state legislature some power to stop a despotic governor. Only Vermont, Washington, Ohio and Hawaii offer no legislative safeguards. Vermont’s Legislature might be able to make a non-emergency order obsolete by voting against it, as happened last week when the Senate voted their disapproval of Scott’s Act 250 reform order. But executive orders under the pretense of a self-declared “emergency?” These are unstoppable under current law.

Perhaps our future governor would want us to cut our carbon emissions to zero in two years instead of 30. Why not ration gasoline or shut off all shipments of heating fuel from freezing Vermonters until they can buy a heat pump that doesn’t work when it’s bitter cold?

The “fundamental physics and the fundamental problem of greenhouse gas emissions would not change” if Vermont’s emissions fell to zero, as one Vermont environmental lobbyist put it. No matter how much Vermont reduces our emissions, this climate emergency could conceivably go on for 50 years. At least with Covid, there is a conceivable end in sight as cases start to fall. Not so with climate change, the Forever Emergency.

Such an emergency would be the killing blow for Vermont democracy, not to mention our economy. Let’s get our Legislature to take more responsibility for managing emergencies, while the chance of a future governor using these emergencies to become a despot is still small.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Gillfoto

9 thoughts on “Flemming: A climate emergency power grab — one scenario

  1. It’s just a power grab, literally and figuratively.

    Also power from a republic to an oligarchy, so we can all be slaves and subjects to Bill Gates and the NWO pimps.

  2. David,

    “Why not ration gasoline or shut off all shipments of heating fuel from freezing Vermonters until they can buy a heat pump that doesn’t work when it’s bitter cold?”

    Heat Pumps are Money Losers in my Vermont House

    My annual electricity consumption increased about 50%, after I installed three 24,000 Btu/h heat pumps for heating and cooling my, well-sealed/well-insulated house. They displaced a fraction of my propane consumption.

    My existing propane system, 95%-efficient in condensing mode, is used on cold days, 15 F or less, because heat pumps would have low efficiencies, i.e., low Btu/kWh, at exactly the same time my house would need the most heat!

    There have been no energy cost savings, because of high household electric rates, augmented with taxes, fees and surcharges.
    Amortizing the $24,000 capital cost at 3.5%/y for 15 years costs about $2,059/y.
    There likely will be service calls and parts, as the years go by, in addition to service calls and parts for the existing propane system.

    All is detailed in this article


  3. I wonder if the wind and solar junkies of Vermont are going to say anything about wind mills freezing in Texas? The cause of over half of power outage.

    • They may be open to discuss the Texas windmills. After all, the wind generators used in northern New England are clearly designed to handle this extreme weather. The Texas windmills not so much.

      But don’t let this be a diversion from the real issue.

      Wind and solar power cost more than twice as much per KWH as does the abundant, sustainable, green, Hydro Quebec energy currently available from our northern next-door neighbor – that happens to be the fourth largest energy producer in the world.

      Why aren’t Vermonter’s buying more HQ power. Ask the apparent cronyism enablers in the VT Legislature, Public Service Board and Public Utility Commission.

      • Jay,

        Solar’s all-in cost is about 25 c/kWh; charged to the utility rate base at about 21.5 c/kWh (net-metered, such as roof-top)
        Wind’s all-in cost is about 18 c/kWh; charged to the utility rate base at about 9.0 c/kWh (ridge line-mounted)

        Owner prices to utilities are based on recent 20-year electricity supply contracts awarded by competitive bidding in New England. These prices would have been about 48% to 50% higher without the direct and indirect subsidies and the cost shifting. Similar percentages apply in areas with better wind and solar conditions, and lower construction costs/MW, than New England. The prices, c/MWh, in those areas are lower than New England.

        The NE wholesale price has averaged at less than 5 c/kWh, starting in 2009

        All is detailed in this article


  4. Production of solar generated power declines precipitously when we cant even see the sun’s location. Texas derives 23% of its electricity from wind turbines. Texas just had an ice storm. Half the turbines froze and two million people were without electricity – in a major ice storm. We have a predicted six hundred year supply of clean burning natural gas that has already lowered the nation’s carbon footprint. Vermont is not going to have any impact whatsoever on the global climate. In less than two hundred years we have gone from cooking in a Dutch oven suspended over a fire by a fire crane to microwave ovens, from horse drawn coaches to Mars research vehicles. Give this renewable energy crap a rest. Wait ’til science and technology produce a practical, reliable way to generate electricity that will economically supersede gas.

    • You don’t have to wait. We have a prolific energy producer right next door that wants to sell Vermont more power – Hydro Quebec. It’s the fourth largest energy producer in the world, its power is as green as can be, and HQ power costs less than half Vermont’s current wholesale power costs.

  5. As Benjamin Franklin opined; “[Our Constitution] is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government.”

    Great Republics have been founded many times in the course of history. Athens and Rome, of course. In business, we are taught of the four economic phases of the typical free market entrepreneurial experience:
    The Wonder phase (when shear will-power carries the day),
    The Blunder phase (when initial successes transform into growth – often poorly managed, when nine out of ten business startups fail),
    The Thunder Phase (when successful growth is established, creating its own momentum and relative security), followed inevitably by,
    The Plunder phase (when profit taking and complacency lead to a failure to adjust to disruptive new technologies).

    I believe the United States is still in its ‘Thunder Phase’, but at risk of prematurely falling into the Plunder Phase, typically because of the tendency for its leaders to mistrust and resist the autonomous entrepreneurial spirit of colleagues, to micro-manage (or not manage at all). A time when being overly protective of one’s authoritarian turf destroys the meritocracy, the fresh successes and renewed entrepreneurial spirit instilled by the next generation of individual rising stars – the revitalization of the Wonder Phase.

    Nowhere is this failure to adjust to disruptive new technologies more evident than in our public education system. We are, and have been for some time now, instilling complacency in our children. The despotism by entrenched heads of government is, under these circumstances, inevitable.

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