By Guy Page
The Vermont House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday discussed raising the tax level in S.54, the tax and regulate marijuana bill. However, there are no plans to vote the bill out of committee and onto the floor this year, a committee member told Headliners.
The committee discussed raising the total tax rate to 20 percent: a 6 percent sales tax, 13 percent excise sales tax, and, for municipalities, a 1 percent “local option” tax. No action was taken. The question of how much to tax retail sales of marijuana is just one of the questions left unanswered as the 2019 Legislature moves into its final days. Other outstanding issues include impaired driver law enforcement and the cost and setup of a marijuana abuse prevention program.
Vermonters concerned about environmental impacts of indoor and outdoor marijuana grows have been asking the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee to determine the environmental impact of marijuana grows. Other “pot legal” states — notably Colorado and California — have had problems with overuse of pesticides and skyrocketing electricity consumption. S.54 directs the Cannabis Control Board tasked to implement S.54 (if it passes) to address environmental and energy concerns. However, House Natural Resources has been asked to make environmental safety contingent on passage, rather than leave it as an afterthought consideration.
Consistent with Vermont’s commitment to a safe environment, the House voted overwhelmingly by roll call Thursday to approve S.55, creating an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management to evaluate chemical inventories in the State every year, identify potential risks to human health and the environment from chemical inventories, and propose solutions to identified risks.The bill also strengthens the State’s power to regulate or prohibit chemicals deemed harmful to children.
The House also approved S.30 (see page 2730 of House Calendar), a ban on hydrofluorcarbon products, including insulation spray foam and refrigeration products. The ban on “high-global warming hydrofluorcarbon” will be phased in over five years.
“This bill provides certainty in the face of pending [federal] legislation,” Rep. Carol Ode, D-Burlington, said as she reported the bill out to the floor.
In response to questioning from Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, a contractor, Rep. Ode said the replacement for the banned spray foam products are likely to cost 10-15 percent more, but also may increase energy savings by 10-15 percent. Substitute coolants would be required by 2022 for stand-alone residential refrigerators and by 2023 for built-in refrigerators. Prohibitions could be delayed if no suitable substitute is available.
HFCs are themselves replacement coolants for ozone-layer endangering chemicals banned in the 1990s, according to the Azotech website:
“HFCs were developed in the 1990’s as a replacement to the ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). They are now the most dominant cooling agent in new refrigeration, air-conditioning (AC) and heat-pump equipment. HFCs are widely used in small, and self-contained, AC systems.
“HFCs replaced HCFCs in many AC systems, but even now HCFCs are still used in developing countries. Even though the replacement of CFCs and HCFCs by HFCs reduced the risk to the ozone layer, they still possess enough high global-warming-potential (GWP) to warrant research efforts into finding an alternative solution.”
Azotech also notes that the most efficient substitute refrigerants are problematic for other reasons. The three replacement chemicals recommended to the EPA in 2011 by Ben & Jerry’s and other “green” companies are propane, isobutane, and an HFC blend, all highly flammable.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.