By John McClaughry
A year ago, Gov. Phil Scott created a Climate Action Commission in response to clamor generated by the state’s environmental organizations determined to make Vermonters take bold action to defeat the Menace of Climate Change, which they insist “is a fundamental threat to Vermont.”
The governor tasked the commission with delivering “an action plan aimed at reaching the state’s renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals while driving economic growth, setting Vermonters on a path to affordability, and ensuring effective energy transition options exist for all Vermonters.”
That greenhouse gas reduction goal, mandated by Act 168 of 2006, is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 50 percent of their 1990 levels by 2028. In 2015, Vermont’s emissions had risen to 16 percent above 1990 levels, not 50 percent below. Driving down CO2 emissions in the futile hope of defeating climate change has become an enviro obsession.
The report released July 30 is a sweeping and well written 85-page compendium of every conceivable step needed to make Vermont the Perfect Little Climate Conscious State. It includes and advocates practically every proposal urged on Vermonters by the environmental phalanx since 1970, plus a number of new enthusiasms sparked by the debatable belief that human carbon dioxide emissions are driving the planet toward heat death.
First, the report extols the merits of “smart growth principles.” This is the “everything in its proper place” notion that underlay Act 250’s proposed State Land Use Plan in 1970, and Gov. Kunin’s ominous “new planning era” of 1987 (Act 200), where anything of consequence occurs only in conformity with a government plan “uniform in standards, specific in requirements, and tough on delinquents.”
To attain this eternal goal, the government needs to take control or ownership of lots more Vermont land that otherwise would be irresponsibly used by selfish, shortsighted landowners oblivious to the principles of smart growth.
The report touts the merits and opportunities presented by a “New Climate Economy,” which a cynic might define as “lots of people making money from the government forcing lots of other people to pay.”
Reducing CO2 emissions requires transformation of the transportation sector that produces 43 percent of them. That means programs to support walking and biking, plus getting people to choose electric vehicles instead of gasoline or diesel powered vehicles. The report strongly supports a network of fast-charging stations for EVs, electric transit and school buses, and even commuter rail “when it becomes viable” (i.e., when unicorns fly).
It doesn’t mention the awkward fact that EVs pay no fuel tax or registration surcharge to support the highway system, leaving that to the gas and diesel powered vehicles the report wants to do away with. Nor does the report explain where the additional gigawatt hours of renewable electricity will come from, to keep all the subsidized EVs on the road.
The report urges doubling of low income home weatherization programs to reduce fuel consumption, claiming that it will save homeowners lots of money over the long run. So why not capitalize the projected fuel savings to pay for the upfront weatherization? There are contractors in Vermont now that do just that for businesses, but the state is committed to sending the home weatherization bill to ratepayers and taxpayers, and letting the homeowners pocket all of the savings.
Looming in the shadows is the One Big Idea for Fighting Climate Change that will drive down CO2 emissions and pay all the costs of adopting the 53 recommendations. That idea is the carbon tax.
Mindful that Gov. Scott is dead set against every form of carbon taxes, “fees,” “caps” and “pricing,” the report manages only to say that driving down CO2 emissions “will require hard choices. We can reform and equalize our tax system to induce behavior change, we can mandate change through statutory or regulatory action, we can let the market efficiently allocate prices through a system like cap and invest or carbon pricing, or we can accept that we will not meet our goals through voluntary action in the current market where the price of carbon is not properly accounted for in the costs of our goods and services.”
The commission then warns: “Unless there is significant progress in greenhouse gas emission reductions, Vermont should institute additional, wide scale measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
What you won’t find in the report is a summary of all the costs of the many programs, incentives and subsidies, including the salaries of what must be thousands of bureaucrats and contractors employed in identifying, measuring, recording, advising, regulating, permitting, subsidizing, policing, and so on to make sure that everybody gets with the “New Climate Economy.”
And you won’t find a trace of the traditional Vermont belief that free people, secure in their property, acting within the law to pursue their dreams, will best contribute to a free and prosperous tomorrow for their children. The urgent need to defeat climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions — no matter how utterly undetectable the results — is now in the driver’s seat.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.