By Rob Roper
Debate over the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) bill (H.715) is now in the Senate Committee for Natural Resources & Energy, where members received their first briefings on the legislation Wednesday. The notable difference in the Senate discussion compared to the House was the evident pressing by members of the Scott administration (Ed McNamara, general counsel, Agency of Natural Resources; and TJ Poor, director of planning, Department of Public Service) for formalizing the need for another vote by the legislative on the final plan put forward by the Public Utilities Commission before the CHS could be implemented.
This idea was pushed in the House committee by Rep. Sally Achey, R-Middletown Springs, and shot down, and on the House floor in the form of an amendment by Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, which went down 44-96.
But, as Poor argued, “I don’t think the two-step process causes us to lose anything. I think it does allow us to gain better information, better analysis, and allow the legislature to really make an informed decision on what their voting for — on what kind of winners and losers of the clean heat standard are you furthering with your policy decision. … The affirmative decision should be made to say that, yes, we understand to the best that we can the consequences, and that we affirmatively support and want to move forward [with the clean heat standard].”
This is common sense and responsible, accountable government – something our legislators and activists seem allergic to. The last thing most of them want to do is affix their “yes” votes to a bill that has a definitive price tag on it with zero plausible deniability about who they’re screwing over. Will the Senate defy expectations, do the right thing, and install a two-step process? Time will tell.
Either way, the good news is that the administration seems to be laying the groundwork for a potential veto of the clean heat standard if it doesn’t contain a second vote threshold. The bad news is, many members of the Scott administration, including Poor, have been advocates for the Climate Action Plan and the Clean Heat Standard, at least conceptually if not in its details.
Scott himself has not brought the hammer down on the CHS for being what it is: a stealth carbon tax on home heating fuels. Opposition to carbon taxes was a platform he was first elected on back in 2016, and one he still professes to stand by. Will he continue to stand by that pledge? Again, time will tell.
Rob Roper is on the Board of Directors of the Ethan Allen Institute.