McClaughry: ‘Check Back’ amendment the path to accountability on clean heat standard

Fifty-two years ago the Vermont General Assembly was faced with an important issue. The Gibb Commission had reported to Gov. Deane Davis that Vermont was in danger of being overrun by unrestrained development, bringing a long list of challenging impacts.

The Municipal Planning and Zoning Act of 1968 had provided towns with numerous tools to use to prevent undesirable development impact. But probably two hundred or more of Vermont’s 246 towns and cities lacked any experience with those tools, and many were being overtaken by events.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Gov. Davis and his Administration Secretary Richard Mallary, a former Speaker of the House, charged House Assistant Clerk Bruce Graham, attorney general James Jeffords, and Vermont Natural Resources Council attorney Jonathan Brownell with drafting legislation to deal with this problem — quickly.

The only available model was Oregon’s land use plan. Its legislature had voted the guiding principles, but directed its appointed Land Conservation and Development Commission to develop and put the actual plan into effect without a further vote of the legislature. The resulting plan, affecting lots of property rights, proved very controversial.

In Vermont in 1970, the draftsmen declared guiding principles, added definitions and ten somewhat imprecise permit criteria, created an Environmental Board, and charged it with producing a State Land Use Plan.

Gov. Davis and Secretary Mallary, recognizing the unprecedented breadth of the step they were asking the legislature to approve, and mindful that the Constitution required that legislators be accountable to the people, insisted that any proposed State Land Use Plan be approved by the General Assembly before taking effect. The Environmental Board’s Plan appeared in 1973, and after three years of bitter controversy, the Senate shelved what was left of it.

In 1984 Act 250 was amended to repeal the requirement that there even be a State Land Use Plan. Accountability of lawmakers to the people had triumphed over severe land use regulation decreed by an unelected and unaccountable government board.

That same battle is now joined again. The issue is the Vermont Climate Council’s “Clean Heat Standard” (H.715). As passed by the House, the unelected Public Utility Commission would have unlimited power to force heating oil, natural gas and propane consumers to pay unlimited amounts of higher fuel prices to get rid of fossil fuels for heating. From the advocates’ point of view, the bill has the great advantage that no legislator will ever vote on it, and risk facing the wrath of the voters.

Gov. Scott has long opposed any regressive carbon tax — for that is what the Clean Heat Standard amounts to — as an unaffordable and unacceptable burden on the poor, working people, retirees, town and city governments, hospitals, schools, churches, and businesses large and small. In a regrettable but realistic concession to the large Democratic majorities in House and Senate, Scott seems willing to let H.715 become law — if before taking effect the final scheme is approved by a majority of legislators in the House and Senate.

Scott’s view is contained in the “Check Back” Amendment to be offered in the Senate. It states “The Clean Heat Standard shall not take effect until an Act accepting the March 15, 2023, report on projected costs and benefits of the Clean Heat Standard … is passed by the General Assembly and becomes law.”

That view is opposed — some would say fanatically — by Democratic senators who are lusting to drive out fossil fuels to defeat the Menace of Climate Change, but who want nothing to do with accountability to the people. They have concocted a “Fake Check” amendment which would allow the PUC to implement a sweeping and costly Clean Heat Standard without a roll call vote of the legislators. They think they can kill the accountable Check Back legislative vote and rally all Democrats to overturn a Scott veto.

This has been called the “Now or Never” strategy: Kill the Check Back requirement now and ram this sweeping stealth tax bill into law now by overriding a Scott veto; or accept the Check Back requirement now, and put off the Clean Heat Standard vote until 2023. That risks never getting the bill passed, because the next legislature may be much more favorable to the governor’s point of view, and Democrats may face an electorate less inclined to reelect those who voted to create the Clean Heat Standard.

Republicans, whose 1970 governor and legislature gave Vermont Act 250, unanimously support the Check Back requirement.

This is about much more than saddling Vermonters with ever-higher heating fuel prices, burdensome as that will be. This is about whether three unelected officials should be empowered to decree enormous and costly changes to the lives and fortunes of hundreds of thousands of Vermonters, while the elected representatives of the people avoid any accountability.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Phil Scott for Vermont and John McClaughry
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13 thoughts on “McClaughry: ‘Check Back’ amendment the path to accountability on clean heat standard

  1. If you want to understand the Clean Heat Standard, I deconstructed the very complicated legislation and testified to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, video here https://youtu.be/57XyrUwMQYc, go to 26 minutes in. I was the only person on the agenda for the 11 to 11:30 time slot, but was told to stop because they had another witness, who turned out to be Ben Walsh of VPIRG — a little insight into how this game is played. Couldn’t let me have the last word at the end of a Friday committee meeting.

    Then, more fun a week later as the committee had on the agenda to vote on the bill. The PUC came in to say that because of the change from an Order to a Rule, they need more time, and had issues with the deadlines in the bill. Their concerns were abruptly cut off by the need to vote before going on the Senate floor. The vote was 4 -1, then they adjourned. But the camera kept running. Go to 47 minutes in https://youtu.be/2-Sf9Gwedao to see the Chair working with Jared Duval of Energy Action Network, asking him for help over the weekend on the talking points to bring to the Senate Floor. The committee passed out a bill that the PUC says they can’t do in the time frame.

    Two days before, the committee received a letter signed onto by numerous groups expressing serious concerns with the Clean Heat Standard. None of those were addressed or resolved in any satisfactory way. https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2022/WorkGroups/Senate%20Natural%20Resources/Bills/H.715/Public%20Comments/H.715~Jennifer%20Byrne~Letter%20of%20Concern~4-13-2022.pdf

    • Annette, thank you for this. What you describe simply confirms the terrifying and absolute submission of the Legislature to the climate change lobbyists and the total detachment from the objective legislative reality regarding energy policies and from the needs and interests of their constituents. It is chilling .

      • The Clean Heat Standard is back on the Senate NRE committee’s agenda twice this week, each time with a possible vote. It’s also on the Senate Appropriations Committee agenda at 1 pm today. I guess the SNRE committee realizes they have to fix the bill before it’s ready for the Senate Floor. I assume lots of work happened on it over the weekend to try to address the mounting concerns. It was already big and complicated and every “fix” adds more words.

        • More work by those in the legislature who have pushed the Global Warming Solution Act forward from the very beginning will solve nothing and accomplish nothing…….It will have no impact on climate change and run costs up.

          Work, serious work, while critical to the success of any endeavor will do little to make the GWSA successful……..The reason is that idea or concept of Vermont solving global warming is fatally flawed……..Fatally flawed because Vermont is just simply too small and technically unable to impact climate change.

          As Annette tells us, ” It was already big and complicated and every “fix” adds more words.”……..”More words” will do nothing. The GWSA is now where Peter Shumlin’s single payer health care concept ultimate crashed…. On the rocks of high costs, overall unaffordability and Vermont’s tiny size.

          Peter Shumlin recognized the cost and folly of his single payer concept and moved on…….Time for the Vermont legislature to bury the GWSA and also move on.

  2. If these commies really wanted to affect climate change (which really does not exist except in their minds), they would go after things that could actually affect the climate; like banning all products made in China and India, banning plastic packaging for any product sold in Vermont, banning jet travel in and out of Vermont, and banning the use of fossil fueled electric power in Vermont, etc. — I call them commies because of their behaviors…

  3. Great analysis of the current situation.
    Scott needs to veto unless full accountability.’
    We need to elect a net of 5 more Republican Representatives to guarantee sustaining his vetoes of such impractical and damaging legislation in the future.

  4. Thank you John, for your tireless efforts to inform and educate. I recall in the early 70’s a conversation with a newly appointed planning board member who was grappling with the state’s “enabling legislation” that provided the framework for towns to adopt zoning ordinances. The phrase “pre-existing non-conforming”, and the rights that it conveyed, was crucial language for it allowed all the exceptions to the new rules to continue. Without that language zoning ordinances would not have been approved by the voters. Hopefully the PUC will consider similar language so that people will not have their lives upended by mandates that impose penalties on businesses or residents who wish to continue with business as usual and prefer to be left alone by the state.

  5. The Clean Heat Standard (CHS) has the potential to, or better stated, will metastasize into an unimaginable disaster for all Vermonters. Lets take a look at what can/will go wrong if the CHS and related climate change mandates become law and are implemented:

    1. The cost of heating homes and operating businesses for all Vermonters will explode to unaffordable levels not defined by those in the legislature pushing all of the climate change mandates……..The legislature hasn’t addressed this issue.

    2. Vermonters will be forced into attempting to install and maintain heat pump to replace existing oil or natural gas heating systems. I say attempt to install as there are not adequate resources to install heat pumps nor maintain them to a level anticipated by the CHS. Most Vermonters don’t have the financial resources to pay for them, there are very serious issues on how heat pumps work in northern climates and where the electricity come from to power the heat pumps?…….The legislature hasn’t addressed these issues.

    3. Where will the electrical power come from to power heat pumps, electric vehicles, lighting, manufacturing, business operations, hospitals, schools and everything else needed to literally keep the lights on?…….The legislature hasn’t addressed this issue.

    4. What will all of this new electrical power cost?…..The legislature hasn’t addressed this issue.

    5. Solar panels and wind are not reliable and affordable alternatives and the problem goes beyond operating limitations related to darkness, cloudy days, snow covered panels, an absence of wind, grid operating issues and costs. At this time China controls the manufacture of solar panels and access to much needed rare earth elements needed to drive new related technologies…….Does Vermont want to be dependent on China to keep the lights on and the state running? Before saying yes to China, think twice and look at the mess facing Western Europe that has become dependent on a hostile and unreliable Russia of its fossil fuel needs…….What assurances do we have that foreign suppliers can be counted on?……There are no assurances and again, the Vermont legislature has not addressed these critical very critical issues.

    6. If the legislature does implement all of the climate changes mandated, what impact will it have on stopping or even affecting climate change?…….Like everything else, the legislature hasn’t addressed this issue……..But Rep. Scott Campbell, a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee who has heard all the expert testimony, tells us Vermont cannot stop nor even affect climate change…….John Kerry, President Biden’s Climate Czar, also tells us the United States, let alone Vermont, cannot solve climate change alone.

    The only rational course of action for Vermont is to abandon the mandates of the grossly and overly ambitious and naive Global Warming Solutions Act and allow the nation-state entities with the economic resources and supporting technologies to develop the plan to deal with climate change which Vermont can follow when available.

    If anyone in the legislature would like to rebut the above, please do so and provide the answers to all the questions on climate change that have yet to be addressed.

    • Six important and unaddressed points. Don’t look for the club of elitists in Montpelier to address these anytime soon, this is an election year and these liberals have no answers to give- only green rhetoric.
      The impact to Vermont’s residents and economy will be incredible, transforming Vermont into a two-class state, the very wealthy- and those that serve them. For those that are middle income- many will simply leave. The resulting inflation of Vermont’s economy will pull the middle-income Vermonter down into economic dire straights.
      NH and NY will receive a bonus of economic activity, as Vermonters flock to buy goods and fuel- and homes- further reducing Vermont’s economy and increasing remaining Vermonter’s tax liabilities.
      The GWSA and it’s myriad of programs and legislative mandates is liberal totalitarianism, rebranded as socialism to appear more palatable to the donor class here in Vermont.
      If Scott vetoes, and the veto is overridden- the exodus from Vermont of it’s people will begin in earnest.

      • Those Dem/Prog elites have armored themselves with universal mail out of ballots to all people on voter lists.

        Town clerks are, by law, not allowed to ask for ANY VOTER ID, WITH OR WITHOUT PHOTO

        PLUS, after these ballots are mailed UNIVERSAL HARVESTING BY BALLOT TRAFFICKERS is legally allowed.

        What else would Dem/Progs need to win?

        Vermont’s voting rules in force are on steroids compared to Pelosi’s PROPOSALS

  6. From a David Fleming article: “Vermont should pass the Climate Heat Standard which outlines how fossil fuel heating will be replaced by more palatable alternatives” fails to recognize there may be, neither currently nor in the foreseeable near future, a “more palatable,” reliable or affordable alternative to the majority of current heating systems in use. Legislators are elected by the voters, are “hired” to represent them and should be held responsible to those voters. The Clean Heat Standard is a controversial issue. It warrants a transparent public debate and a vote.

    • This is basically tyranny willfully imposed by arrogant people, who think they know what is best for Vermonters

      I am 100% sure no sane Vermonters ever thought perversion and mendacity would go this far in the land of the free.

      WE HAVE TO TURN OUT AT THE POLLS EN MASSE IN NOVEMBER TO SAVE OURSELVES FROM THIS DECADES-LONG CHARADE

  7. Does the PUC have the statuary authority to impose such burdens on Vermonters to “fight climate change”?

    JUST ABOUT EVERYONE AGREES THERE IS NOTHING ALL OF VERMONT OR ALL OF NEW ENGLAND COULD EVER DO THAT WOULD BE BIG ENOUGH TO AFFECT THE CLIMATE.

    China has a plan to mine more coal and import more coal from Russia, and build more coal plants that would emit so much CO2/y, to totally offset all of the CO2 reduction/y, of the EU plus US.

    When I first read this, I thought that can not be true.
    But, after I made some calculations, it turned out it was true.

    BTW, India has similar plans to burn more coal.

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