This commentary is by Sen. Joe Benning, who represents the Caledonia-Orange District in the Vermont Senate. He is also a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Vermont.
For a very long time I’ve considered myself an environmentalist. In elementary school I helped our school develop its first Earth Day program. In high school I helped organize what we called “Walk for Mankind,” to draw attention to human impacts on the world. In college we fought against the acid rain defoliation of our mountain forests caused by Midwest coal-fired energy plants. As president of the Lyndonville Rotary Club I spearheaded the effort to clean up approximately five miles of the Passumpsic River. That effort removed 32 tons of metal car parts, almost 500 tires and over 3,000 pounds of general trash- all taken to proper disposal/recycling facilities.
Each effort required the use of proper tools to accomplish the task. The river clean up alone required a crane, a bucket loader, hand tools and plenty of boats. I spent many hours with snorkeling gear diving underwater to hook up a chain to numerous car and truck frames, likely deposited there initially to protect the river banks after the flood of 1927. The right tools helped achieve the objective. The wrong tools do not. In fact, they sometimes result in bigger problems.
I should pause to note that I long ago accepted the fact that mankind’s use of fossil fuels is problematic. Fifteen seconds with my nose close to the end of my motorcycle’s tailpipes with the engine running makes me sick. Quickly. Multiplied by the likely billions of running motor vehicles on the planet, it is not rocket science to understand that’s a heck of a lot of pollution thrown into the atmosphere. We need to fix that.
But the tiny population of Vermont can’t fix anything unless it uses the right tools. This essay deals with a wrong tool — the Global Warming Solutions Act and its progeny: the Clean Heat Standard bill recently vetoed by Governor Scott.
The Global Warming Solutions Act took previous “goals” for lowering our carbon output and turned them into “mandates.” No legislator (being honest) truly believed we would meet those mandates without draconian measures. To avoid facing controversial proposals head on, a bureaucracy was created to make suggestions for carbon reduction, which insulated legislators from the direct wrath of Vermonters who’d be most impacted. To nobody’s surprise, that bureaucracy suggested imposition of (in plain English) a heavy tax on fossil fuels. Every Vermonter using an internal combustion engine and/or a heating system powered by fossil fuels would have to pay it. The hope would be less consumption, and proponents could thus claim Vermont did something about climate change.
The sad part of this feel-good measure is that it can’t achieve the objective. If the total carbon output of Vermont’s miniscule population disappeared tomorrow, it would have virtually no scientifically registerable impact on climate change. In exchange the only thing we’d accomplish would be to drive a substantial portion of our population into financial distress. That’s called using the wrong tool. I’m not suggesting doing nothing. With Vermont’s limited resources, we should be using those resources to weatherize every Vermont home to enable resilience. Resilience and conservation are two proper tools when it comes to addressing climate change.
As a Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, I find it even sadder that all four of the Democratic candidates in this race recently took Governor Phil Scott to task for properly vetoing the Clean Heating Standard bill that would have imposed that heavy tax on fossil fuels. Their unwillingness to consider the severe financial consequences caused by use of this improper tool is troubling. Vermonters cannot give up heating their homes or traveling to work. I cannot condone the use of this improper tool, especially when its imposition on such a small population does virtually nothing to accomplish the objective.
We need to use our heads, as well as the proper tools, when it comes to addressing climate change. The Global Warming Solutions Act is no solution.