By Rob Roper
Gov. Phil Scott put some of his political capital on the line over his veto of the clean heat standard bill, S.5.
Scott released a video Saturday morning on social media, where he has 43,000 followers on Facebook alone, urging Vermonters to contact their legislators to ask them to vote to sustain his veto of the bill.
This push comes as Democrat Party leadership appears to be rushing the override vote to take place sometime during the week of May 8, despite there being a special veto session on the calendar for late June.
In his short message, Scott explained his main reason for the veto: “Because it could substantially raise home heating costs on Vermonters who can least afford it.” Estimates of the impact S.5 could have on home heating fuel prices range from $0.70 to $4.00 per gallon. And because low income Vermonters tend to spend a higher percentage of their incomes on heat, the clean heat standard is considered regressive.
Although the language in the bill pays lip service to assisting low-income Vermonters with transitioning to other heating technologies, it contains no substantive instructions for how to do so. For this reason Vermont’s Office of Racial Equity testified that S.5 “doesn’t make the mark” for living up to its “just transition” requirements.
Scott goes on, “I also have a problem with how it’s being done. Punting responsibility to an unelected commission to design the system and begin implementation before it is returned to the legislature.”
This latter point refers to the so-called “check back” amendment inserted into the bill by the Senate Appropriations Committee. While the amendment does require the Legislature to take a new and separate vote to approve the final rules that would govern the clean heat standard in 2025, the Public Utilities Commission would have broad authority to build the program — hiring bureaucrats and subcontractors to set up the all of for the program manage — before that vote would take place. It is like building a house in order to determine once it is completed if you can afford to move in. Scott asked for a true check back in which the operational details and costs of the program would studied and brought before the Legislature in blueprint form for a vote on whether or not to implement the program.
As Scott explained, “If this were truly a study as [supporters of the bill] said it was, it would explicitly say that in the bill. And then we could debate that study in full view of Vermonters.” But this kind of transparency and accountability is what supporters of the bill have been arduously trying to avoid since passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2020.
Scott asserts that we can achieve our climate goals “without punishing Vermonters,” and concludes, “If you agree, I need you to call your representatives and senators today, and ask them to sustain this veto.”
In his post, the governor provides the instructions, “Find and contact your legislator here [at this link].”
The questions now are, will Vermonters respond to this call to action from the nation’s most popular governor? And if they do, will any of their representatives and senators listen?
The votes to pass the clean heat standard were 20-10 in the Senate and, accounting for absent members in the House, 103-47. Eleven votes in the Senate or 51 votes in the House (assuming all members are present) will be necessary to sustain Scott’s veto.
It will be close. We will soon see what a 78 percent approval rating of the governor buys in terms of active popular support.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. © Copyright True North Reports 2023. All rights reserved.