By Rob Roper
The mood at recent Vermont Climate Council committee meetings is bleak as the folks tasked by the Legislature to come up with a plan to meet the greenhouse gas reduction mandates of their Global Warming Solutions Act do not have one.
It’s not entirely their fault. The task is and always was politically and logistically impossible. The whole thing has echoes of the Legislature passing a law to deliver a single payer health care system before looking at the details of what it would cost and what it would take. When the public finally saw the price tag, dreams of single payer very quickly evaporated.
Now there is a palpable frustration growing between the more idealistic Climate Council committee members who are eager to put forward concrete proposals to meet the mandates and the more politically oriented members who are trying to keep things vague because they know the second those kinds of details come out the public will reject them.
Such an exchange took place at the Aug. 29 Transportation Task Group meeting when Gina Campoli asked about providing an estimate of how much money the state would need to raise for just one program and where the money would come from.
“For example,” said Campoli, “We need X amount of incentives and X amount of charging infrastructure. We’re spending X amount now. Then there’s a gap … to get to the numbers of electric vehicles that are necessary. This would be the easiest calculation. It’s going to require a certain investment on the part of the state both to underwrite the incentives and the cost of the infrastructure. … What’s the gap to get to the numbers we need?”
An easy calculation that any reasonable person would expect to be a top priority for any action plan, and one that shouldn’t take nearly two years and counting to answer. This unwillingness to face fiscal facts is the reason Gov. Scott vetoed the Council’s Clean Heat Standard recommendation.
Jane Lazorchak, the Global Warming Solutions Act Project Director, deflected Campoli’s question, hinting that it’s OK to discuss spending federal money, but not money Vermont will have to raise ourselves. “The kinds of questions you’re diving into, Gina, are like bigger funding issue and where are there gaps and state funding needed, like weatherization is a great example. We’re floating the boat with federal dollars, but there’s going to be a cliff, so how are we going to pay for that long term?”
Yes, how? And how big exactly is that cliff you’ve put us on track to go over?
Campoli offers a rundown, including increasing Vermont’s electric vehicle fleet from 5,000 to 126,000 and weatherizing 90,000 homes, “not to mention bike, ped, and transit, and all that stuff. … There are big long-term needs, ongoing, present, and future. I mean, if we think we can just put $50,000 in here and $100,000 in there and mission accomplished, we’re kidding ourselves. It’s going to be major.”
Major indeed. And new taxes on motor and home heating fuels to cover that number, which what the council is discussing in one form or another, will be major unpopular.
But this “don’t ask for details, don’t tell costs” attitude is clearly unsatisfying to council members who think asking and telling should be a celebrated part of the process. It’s the reason they signed up. Months passing without meaningful debate over substantive ideas led Sebbi Wu, a VPIRG employee who serves as liaison between the Just Transitions Committee and the Transportation Task Group, to ask with visible disillusionment, “Where are the specifics?”
From the other side, the frustration stems from logistical realities. As Lazorchak admits in a moment of candor, “We’ve been circling in on ‘cap and invest”, “cap and reduce’, or a ‘performance standard.’ But we don’t have—well, 1) TCI, which is probably not coming back online in our timeline of joining that in a year…. There’s just this practical nature of like Vermont cannot afford to stand up a performance standard on our own. Administratively it would be impossible. So, there’s also this component of analysis to happen around, like, How are we gonna – I just – I don’t even know. That’s where my head starts to spin. If no other New England state is really looking at this right now, how do we say we’re going to adopt one in 2024? … It’s so hard because we’re really just not capable of doing much on our own.”
So, no revenue, no interested partners, no logistical capability, no ideas, and no public support. Perhaps this is why a number of key legislative-appointee council members are asking not to return when their terms are up next month. These folks are fleeing the sinking ship, but the taxpayers are trapped down in the hold, and we are being set up to waste a “major” amount of taxpayer dollars for “not doing much.”
Rob Roper is on the board of directors for the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.