By Rob Roper
In the spring of 2011, then Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill that was supposed to set Vermont off leading the nation to a single-payer health care system. The activists rejoiced, the politicians puffed their chests, the bean counters got to work. Then, in December 2014 the three-year adventure in denying reality came to an end. Shumlin was forced to admit the whole scheme was too expensive, too disruptive and simply wouldn’t work. So, never mind!
A similar scent of impending failure is beginning to seep out from the virtual chambers of the Vermont Climate Council.
The Vermont Climate Council, created under the Global Warming Solutions Act, is charged with coming up with a plan by this December to lower Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. In terms of costs and scope of impact, this task makes single-payer look minuscule by comparison. The climate plan will do nothing less than reshape our entire economy, radically alter the way we live and work, and micromanage our landscape. It will change how we travel, build and renovate our homes, and the list goes on. The taxes, fees, fines, and regulatory mandates necessary to make this happen will be staggering.
Speaking bluntly, council member June Tierney, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said this about the proposals the council is preparing to unleash: “I don’t think Vermonters understand the Mack truck that’s coming at them when you start matching up resources to priorities this plan is going to embody. I just don’t think they understand how this is going to impact their lives and what it’s going to cost.”
When Vermonters find out they will not be pleased.
Ben Rose, a former two-term legislator from the late 1990s serving on the Rural Resilience and Adaptation subcommittee, also seems to understand the backlash sure to come. He said: “There are moments when there are things worth losing one’s seat over. … If what we come up with as our highest one or two priorities are things that legislators are told this is worth losing your seat over, that’s the most powerful work the Council can do.” Translation: this is a political suicide mission because this plan will not have popular support.
Kiah Morris, another former legislator no longer facing the voters, who is working for the council as an advisor, cheerily explained, “They [legislators] are going to get some nasty-grams from their constituency. And it will have much less to do with how many points did you bring down emissions, and a heck of a lot more with ‘what happened to these jobs?’”
“These jobs” indeed. The council admits that thousands of Vermonters directly employed by fossil fuel providers (gas stations, heating oil, propane and natural gas, suppliers, etc.), and indirectly employed in associated businesses such as mini-marts and automotive maintenance, will lose their jobs as a result of the GWSA. They do not account for job losses likely to occur due to the increased cost of doing business in Vermont compared to other states, causing businesses to close up shop or leave Vermont.
Some reality seemed to be settling in on Oct. 22 when representatives of the council presented their “Clean Heat Standard” portion of the plan to the House Energy & Technology Committee. Council member Richard Cowart described it as “one of the most important proposals” that will be offered by the council. Committee Chair Tim Briglin (D-Thetford) tepidly greeted the proposal with, “My first impression of this concept is that it’s a good one … [but] I’m looking around for a better one, frankly.” A better one is not likely to materialize in the mere weeks left before the plan is due.
Deliberations are further complicated by the fact that council efforts to reach out to the BIPOC community for buy-in through a “Just Transitions” subcommittee are falling flat. Subcommittee member Mona Tolba, who also sits on the Islamic Society of Vermont, was one of many who spoke out: “I have been attending six meetings now or more, and I did not see any outreach to our communities. I did not see one single translated document of any of your action plans. I don’t really know what your action plan is. … I’m trying to help my community understand, but I need to be able to understand myself first.”
What all Vermonters need to understand is that if we don’t slam the brakes on this “Mack truck” coming at us, we’re all going to end up as roadkill. So, as we did with single-payer, it’s time to say, that was an interesting exercise. Now, never mind!
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.