Phil Scott, the Rock

Analysis: Climate absolutists running into a rock in the governor’s office

Photo caption: Gov. Phil Scott hopes emerging technology like home battery storage will help Vermont meet its carbon-reduction goals without sacrificing quality of life or prosperity.

By Guy Page

January 31, 2020 – The only person standing between Vermont businesses and residents and new, aggressive anti-carbon regulation is Gov. Phil Scott.  

VT Digger columnist John Walters wrote yesterday that Phil Scott’s climate change strategy of innovation over taxation and regulation “rests on the assumption that we can afford to wait until new technology and market forces catch up to our climate challenges. Others would argue that that will be too little, too late.” Another VT Digger headline said carbon tax & regulate legislation is caught “between Scott and a hard place.”

Phil Scott may have been Gov. Flip-Flop on gun rights and who knows what else. But against carbon tax and regulate? He’s a rock. He believes technology will deliver market-friendly carbon reduction, and soon. He won’t sacrifice quality of life and vital state services on the altar of climate absolutism.

The climate absolutists in the Vermont Legislature can’t wait, won’t wait for affordable electric transportation, battery storage, cold-weather heat pumps, and energy-saving homes. We are in the midst of what Sen. Dick McCormack and many others call a “climate emergency.” As they see it, when the global house is burning we can’t dicker over the cost of the fire hose. For the carbon absolutists, relegating the War on Carbon to anything less than a priority of the first magnitude smells of irresponsibility. It won’t happen on their watch.

But here’s the problem with that. Directly and indirectly, climate absolutism wages war on the poor. Every state dollar spent on climate change or denied due to climate regulations means less help for people in need. The liberal heart no longer bleeds for the poor like it used to. It has moved on to another object of devotion – the reduction of climate emissions by 2050.

Climate absolutism directly hurts the poor by forcing them to pay more to stay warm (proposed doubling of heating fuel tax) and drive to work (various gasoline carbon taxes). And the indirect pain of prioritizing climate change over other pressing, right-now, real-world problems is widespread and severe.

Last year, Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) warned fellow senators that Reach Up funding that helps low-income parents keep a roof over their kids’ heads hasn’t increased since 2004. In response, a climate warrior senator said in effect, okay, sure, but reducing carbon is what’s really important.   

And speaking of transportation – right now, the Department of Transportation can’t afford to plow every state highway equally. Some highways get less attention than others. And everyone knows that the icier the road, the more likely the accident. It’s inevitable. But instead of budgeting for enough plows, drivers, sand and salt, the Legislature is increasing spending on railroads, electric buses, bike paths, and electric car subsidies. Emissions reduction is their #1 priority and it’s hugely expensive. Think of that the next time you’re sliding around an icy state highway.

Inadequate elder care funding must be addressed as the Baby Boomers age. Last week a nursing home in Derby announced it will close because it’s going broke and can’t find enough workers. In fact all health care sectors need more workers. The solution is to raise and train an army of well-paid, skilled workers. That too will cost money that will only be available if Vermont has a strong, growing economy.

Vermonters suffer right now from inadequate housing. In the cities and resort towns it’s unaffordable. Elsewhere it’s old and substandard. Homelessness is a real and growing problem. The solution involves government spending millions upon millions in for rehab and new construction and giving the private sector a break with more relaxed permitting and regulations. Climate absolutists would restrict significant housing growth to downtowns and would create and enforce expensive renewable building standards and carbon offset programs. As strategies go for creating plentiful, affordable housing, that’s a can’t win.

All of these problems – not to mention equality of education, health care insurance relief, and pension deficit reduction – require state revenue from a healthy, growing economy. But the climate absolutists see only that Mother Earth is dying and the State of Vermont must rescue her. In the War on carbon, sacrifices must be made. And if government becomes more intrusive – to the point of turning off your fridge or hot water heater at times of peak usage – well, that’s what happens in wartime.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Many of the same lawmakers and lobbyists who demand carbon tax and regulate get positively blasé about prosperity-minded, market-oriented carbon reduction. Enthusiasts for subsidized solar and wind power reject low-cost, carbon-free nuclear power or hydro power. Many of the same critics of oil-powered furnaces and woodstoves also oppose extending natural gas pipelines that would deliver lower-cost, lower-carbon heat. Plant more carbon-eating trees? Meh.

Don’t they know there’s a war on?

As with most absolutists, it’s their way or the highway. But against their irresistible force, there’s still one unmovable object. Phil Scott. The Rock.