By John McClaughry
Over the past 50 years I have seen a lot of bills introduced into the Vermont Legislature. Of all the bills over all those years, the absolute worst was just introduced in the House, with 87 co-sponsors (all Democratic and Progressive). It’s titled the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA, H.688).
The Climate Action Coalition believes that the planet faces a “climate emergency” due to human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. Every year for the past five years its dozens of lobbyists have labored to persuade the legislators to take bold and far-reaching steps to drive down those emissions.
The centerpiece of those efforts has been a carbon tax. The argument has three components. First, we must drive down the use of carbon-based fuels by Vermonters using heating oil, natural gas, gasoline, diesel and propane.
Second, taxation is the best means for accomplishing “decarbonization” because it will make those fuels more expensive. As those fuels become more unaffordable to more and more people and businesses, they will improve their fuel use efficiency, switch to some other energy source, or make lifestyle changes.
Third, the revenues from the increasingly punitive carbon tax can be used by the state to subsidize climate-friendly practices such as home weatherization, heat pumps, public buses, commuter rail and electric vehicles.
The net effect of this program would be the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from people and businesses (plus schools, hospitals and governments) that use heating oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas and propane, to the favored people who weatherize their homes, use public transportation, drive electric vehicles and install solar panels.
Will all this help defeat the “climate emergency”? Not detectably, of course, but it would be a virtue signal to the rest of the world: “Brave Little Vermont! We have the courage to beggar our own people to battle the Menace of Climate Change!”
For five years, however, the Climate Action advocates have failed to find the votes, even in this green-friendly Legislature, to enact even the beginning stages of a carbon tax. So here comes their plan B: The Global Warming Solutions Act.
Fourteen years ago the Legislature, with little dissent, adopted goals for reducing emissions from burning carbon-based fuels. But far from reducing emissions below the 1990 baseline, Vermont’s emissions are now 16 percent above that baseline. Emergency!
Since there aren’t enough votes for a carbon tax, the GWSA would replace the 2006 “goals” with much stricter mandatory requirements, create a 21-member climate action super-government (the Climate Council, controlled by legislative leaders), task it with developing a sweeping plan to regulate anything and everything that might reduce CO2 emissions, implement the plan with state agency rules backed by penalties, authorize the Conservation Law Foundation to bring suits to get judges to order the rule-making agencies to move faster and further to save the planet from the “climate emergency,” and use tax dollars to pay the plaintiff’s legal costs if it “substantially prevails” in a courtroom.
Two things are perfectly clear here: The bureaucrats can’t levy a carbon tax, but the scope of rules they may find essential to defeating “climate change” is unlimited. After all, this is an “emergency”!
And most importantly — read this carefully — no legislator will ever vote on wave after wave of sweeping rules that will affect the lives of every Vermonter.
The Global Warming Solutions Act would simply bestow on state bureaucrats the power to force Vermonters to submit to an endless list of expensive and invasive rules to comply with the arbitrary emissions goals, and eliminate any shred of our elected representatives’ accountability for those actions.
Its passage would be a giant step toward unaccountable rule by arbitrary decree that would have astonished and alarmed 200 years of Vermont governors and legislators faithful to our constitution’s requirement that our government must always, in a legal way, remain accountable to the people.
Add to the utter lack of accountability, and the cost of the army of regulators and enforcers needed to carry out The Plan, and the invitation to Conservation Law Foundation and others to sue the state to force quicker and more far-reaching oppression (as CLF did under a similar statute in Massachusetts), and you have a Green Police State, financed by the victims.
That’s why I label the Global Warming Solutions Act the worst piece of legislation I have seen in 50 years. It’s not just foolish, and costly, and invasive — it is, by design and intent, an abandonment of accountability of our democratically elected representatives who, the constitution reminds us, are the trustees and servants of the people, and of their liberties.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.