By Guy Page
A September 11 Vermont Digger op-ed written by a senior staffer at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group slams Gov. Phil Scott for not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The author makes this remarkable statement:
“Mid-way through the [Vermont Climate Commission] public listening tour last fall – when putting price on carbon pollution was far-and-away the most popular public recommendation – the governor tweeted his opposition to the concept, making clear he had no interest in public input that disagreed with his views.”
Carbon taxes? Popular? If carbon taxes were popular, candidates for the 2018 Vermont Legislature would be publicly telling voters, “Elect me, because I will vote for a carbon tax and my opponent won’t.” Yet the reverse is more often true. Gov. Scott opposes carbon taxation precisely because he is nterested in public input.
President-Elect Barack Obama in 2009 famously told a group of opposition party legislators, “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” The Vermont gubernatorial election of 2016 had the consequence of proving Vermonters didn’t want a carbon tax. Many observers believe Gov. Scott’s firm “no” on carbon taxation put him over the top in 2016.
A carbon tax would inevitably punish poor, rural Vermonters who must have gasoline to get to work and heating oil to stay warm. For the same reason it would scarcely be felt by well-off, urban Chittenden County residents who live in newer, more efficient homes equipped with heat pumps and who drive fewer miles to work in newer, more fuel-efficient cars. It is perhaps no coincidence that most sponsors of various carbon-tax bills represent Chittenden County’s “inner ring” of affluent cities and towns.
Cui bono (‘who benefits’) from a carbon tax? Not poor, rural Vermonters, that’s for sure. A large share of carbon tax proceeds would fund a transition from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and renewable power and heat. It is perhaps no coincidence that many VPIRG officers and trustees have strong ties with the renewable power industry. The president and vice-president are respectively current and former senior managers at Seventh Generation, a renewable-products company that promotes “a switch to 100% renewable energy.” According to the VPIRG website, the treasurer “co-founded groSolar, a national distributor and installer of renewable energy systems.” Several trustees also are renewable industry entrepreneurs.
So it’s not surprising that VPIRG has opposed reducing solar power subsidies and giving local communities more saying in energy project siting. When an industry can tell a municipality where and how it will build its factories, and then sell its product at a guaranteed, over-market price, that’s a pretty sweet deal. In recent years the Vermont Public Utilities Commission has restored some siting and pricing balance in favor of ratepayers, utilities and municipalities. Gov. Scott has not stood in the PUC’s way.
But VPIRG raises a fair question: what have Gov. Scott and his administration done to help Vermont businesses, homeowners, vehicle owners, and electricity consumers reduce their carbon footprint? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Consider their progress in:
- Committed to Vermont’s goal of achieving 90% renewable energy by 2050.
- Joined the U.S. Climate Alliance in support of the Paris Climate Agreement.
- Joined the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition, tracking and encouraging statewide progress towards emissions goals.
- Created, through Executive Order, the Vermont Climate Action Commission to recommend tangible actions to reduce emissions.
- Proposed drawing down $2.8 million from the Volkswagen Settlement Fund to expand the availability of electric vehicle charging stations in Vermont.
- Worked with eight other states to update the Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan to further the electrification of the transportation sector.
- Proposed and passed state laws to simplify billing and improve price clarity for charging stations.
- Opposed the Trump EPA plan to reduce Obama-era car and light truck MPG standards. (VPIRG has even suggested the Scott administration is doing the Trump administration’s bidding – an absurd notion to anyone aware of the near constant collisions between policies emanating from Washington and Montpelier.)
- Signed into law and working to implement two major appliance efficiency standards in H.411 (Act 42) and H.410 (Act 139) in successive legislative sessions. Act 42 served as a backstop to help ensure implementation of proposed federal appliance standards.
- Supported sustainable investments in electric energy efficiency at levels that are among the most ambitious in the nation and consistent with Vermont law.
- Helped some of Vermont’s largest, most efficiency-compliant employers save money while meeting energy efficiency goals, through expansion of SMEEP and Energy Savings Accounts Account programs.
Renewable Electricity Generation
- Implemented the Renewable Energy Standard that first took effect as a standard in 2017. The standard requires the utilities to be 55% renewable, and helps utility customers transition away from fossil fuels for heating and transportation. The Vermont standard is among the most ambitious renewable standard in the U.S..
- Vermont has experienced unprecedented growth in renewable generation, especially solar, since January 2017 and now has almost 300 MW installed of solar power.
- Adjusted renewable generation and net-metering and siting regulations to be more compatible with market energy pricing and local control of development, and thus become more sustainable in the long run.
- Worked with Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) partner states to agree to lower the CO2 emission cap; Vermont is in the process of adopting the necessary regulations to achieve that result.
- Supports New England Clean Power Link underwater cable to bring carbon-free Canadian hydropower to southern New England.
- Urged, with four other New England governors, more support for existing low-emissions hydro and nuclear power generation as an enhancement of power grid safety and reliability.
Clean Energy Finance
- Helped energy companies (Vermont Gas, etc.) establish the Heat Saver Loan Program of low-interest, 100% financing for energy-efficiency improvements.
Advanced wood heating
- Over a half a million dollars invested through incentives for advanced wood heating systems in schools, businesses, and homes for over 60 projects.
- Completed major investigations into clean energy pathways including battery storage systems and cold climate heat pump systems. Conducting an ongoing collaboration and investigation advances in clean energy finance. Vermont’s first utility-scale (5.3 MW) battery storage program will soon go before the Vermont Public Utilities Commission for review, with construction to start next year.
For many years, VPIRG and other “green” lobby groups in Montpelier have insisted the best path to emissions reduction runs through a huge, mandated, subsidy-enforced build-out of instate solar and wind power generation. Gov. Scott has taken another path: make reduction affordable and desirable by empowering Vermonters to choose clean energy options. He believes Vermonters have a clean, prosperous future – one that doesn’t include being punished with a carbon tax.
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.