by Rob Roper
Following the Senate’s 20-10 vote to join the House in passing the Unaffordable Heat Act (S.5), Governor Phil Scott immediately informed the General Assembly and the public that he intends to veto the half-baked, hugely expensive, and admittedly ineffective legislation. (No, a Vermont Clean Heat Standard will not save the planet or anything else from climate change.)
In his pre-veto message, Scott explained, “I strongly believe the right approach is to help people make the transition [to more efficient home heating options], not financially punish those who cannot afford to do so. Unfortunately, the Super Majority in the Legislature decided to take a completely different approach by giving an unelected commission, the Public Utility Commission (PUC), the power to design and adopt a system — without guaranteeing the details and costs will be debated transparently through the normal legislative process, in full view of their constituents.
“For these reasons and more, I will veto S.5, and I’m asking Vermonters, even the many who have already contacted their legislators, to make their voices heard and ask their representatives and senators to sustain this veto.”
Call all of your senators, yes, but one in particular: Senator Dick Sears (D-Bennington).
Scott needs eleven senators to vote to sustain his veto. He can count on all seven Republicans and three Democrats: Bobby Starr (D-Orleans), Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle), and Irene Wrenner (D-Chittenden North). That makes ten. He needs one more.
Of the twenty remaining Democrats in the senate who voted for S.5, Sears is the most likely to come around and join his more moderate colleagues, Starr, Mazza and Wrenner in ultimately opposing the bill.
Sears initially voted “no” on S.5 when it came before the Appropriations Committee last February but changed his vote to “yes” on the floor under pressure from party leadership. In casting that first “no’ vote, Sears cited several reasons, not the least of which was his having received “thousands” of calls and emails from his constituents begging him to oppose a law that would force them to pay significantly higher costs for home heating fuels. (An additional $0.70 to $4.00 per gallon are the estimates.)
Beyond just listening to the people who elected him, Sears also demonstrated a clearer understanding of the potential negative impacts S.5 would have on local businesses, especially those that along Vermont’s borders with New Hampshire and Massachusetts, than his colleagues have grasped, or will publicly admit.
When S.5 returned to the senate following its passage in the House, Sears once again expressed concern and reluctance about how confusing the bill is, about what would actually happen if it passed, and about what the consequences – intended and unintended – could be. Sears remained (correctly) suspicious that the so-called “check back” provision in the bill would not actually do what proponents of the bill are saying it will do. Sears concluded his comments on the floor, admitting, “This is a leap of faith more than I’m used to.”
The question is, will he ultimately make that leap with the fate of Vermont’s economy, the livelihoods of many small businesses, and the ability of thousands of his constituents to afford not freezing to death in winter at stake. Good governance and responsible stewardship say vote “no.” Partisan politics says vote “yes.” Which will Sears choose?
Dick Sears is one of the most respected members of the senate. First elected in 1993 he has served for thirty years. He is also 80 years old, and, unlike many of his colleagues pushing for the Unaffordable Heat Act, he doesn’t harbor ambitions for future higher office. He doesn’t need to impress the activists at VPIRG or do the bidding of the major leftwing donors at Vermont Gas, SunCommon, etc. Sears legacy will be determined by what he does from his Bennington County senate seat.
Dick Sears knows this is a bad bill. He knows that it will harm his constituents. He knows that his constituents overwhelmingly don’t want him to vote for it. He needs to decide if these factors are more important to him than kowtowing to a bunch of misinformed activists and Chittenden County special interests in order to escape the no-doubt unpleasant bullying by other in his party to go along to get along.
Let him know how you think he should vote. Dick Sears’ contact information is:
Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com