Bufka: S.5 shoddy workmanship, more stick than carrot

By Karen Bufka

You never know who will change your life. In 2021 I had a short conversation with a total stranger. I often think of it.

This man, who works in a construction context, is also a farmer. We got talking about the crucial nature of citizen involvement in democracy, and he shared a personal story with me. A regulation was going to profoundly and negatively affect his ability to continue to farm his land. He contacted his Representative, getting the “yeah, I’ll look into it” brush off. He continued to call his Representative every day, until this person helped him to address the issue—successfully, as it turns out.

For me, Big Lesson #1: engage with your elected leaders, and keep engaging. Big Lesson #2: “Piss Poor Planning Produces Piss Poor Results”. I don’t remember how our conversation got to this, whether it was about construction, government or farming, but it struck me so much that I asked him to write it down for me. He did so, and that post-it note is pinned to my bulletin board where I see it often.

S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, is shoddy workmanship. It would have us embark on a course of action without understanding fully the effects of that course on the people of Vermont. Last year, Gov. Scott vetoed a similar bill, saying “I am returning H.715, An act relating to the Clean Heat Standard, without my signature because…we have an obligation to ensure Vermonters know the financial costs and impacts of this policy on their lives and the State’s economy… the costs and impacts are unknown. The Legislature’s own Joint Fiscal Office acknowledges this fact, saying: ‘It is too soon to estimate the impact on Vermont’s economy, households and businesses. The way in which the Clean Heat Standard is implemented, including the way in which clean heat credits are priced and how incentives or subsidies are offered to households and businesses, must be established before meaningful analysis is possible. At the same time, those incentives or subsidies could be costly for the State, suggesting larger fiscal impacts in future years.’” This is relevant to S.5, too.

An indicator of the poor workmanship of this bill is this paragraph on page 26: “Sec. 5(c) Public engagement process. Before commencing rule making the Commission shall use the forms of public engagement described… to inform the design and implementation of the Clean Heat Standard. Any failure to meet the specific procedural requirements of this section shall not affect the validity of the Commission’s actions.” This is bizarre and concerning. They are supposedly required to engage with the public in certain specified ways, but if they don’t, it doesn’t matter! If the people who wrote this bill were building a house, I would not go anywhere near it, let alone inside it because it might fall down at any moment. Remember: “Piss Poor Planning Produces Piss Poor Results”. 

2) It is a Carrot-and-Stick scenario, more Stick-and-Carrot. Who are these people who wrote the bill? Are they so wise that they get to beat the rest of us into doing what they think is the right thing to do? The phrase “hell of good intentions” comes to mind. The authors of this bill undoubtedly mean well, but they are willing to sign up not just themselves, but all Vermonters, for a process the details of which are unknown and which will materially affect our ability to heat our homes and the ability of the heating fuel companies to do their jobs. What concerns me most, though, is that any of our elected leaders, ever, would reach for the Stick to encourage us to change.

We need to remind our elected leaders that we “hired” them to do a job for us, so they can put away the stick. Contact your senator today at or 802-828-2228 – Say Vote No on Senate Bill S.5.

There is a crucial connection between accessible, affordable energy and prosperity. The prosperity we have known occurred because of cheap energy. Billions of people around the world lack access to cheap energy, thus lack prosperity. Another piece of the puzzle: societies produce increasing amounts of pollution as they are rising from being dirt-poor. At a certain point of prosperity, the pollution peaks and begins to decrease because people can afford to think about it. In considering how Vermont can move forward, let’s focus on caring for each other, creating prosperity for all, so that all of us can prosper and afford to prioritize heating our buildings in as green a way as possible. Too many Vermonters are still having to choose between heat and food.

The author is a St. Johnsbury resident.

Categories: Commentary

4 replies »

  1. One party government (veto proof) produced bills tend to be “piss poor”. This “S-5” is no exception to this observation!

  2. Karen, you are absolutely correct! This S5 Bill, if passed, will cause outright rebellion! The costs are prohibitive and a nasty thing to do to Vermonters. The so-called carbon footprint that this bill would prevent is negligible. I ask all Vermonters to please pay attention and keep hounding your legislators until they listen. This bill is so irresponsible that we shouldn’t have to go through this to begin with! One private quote from a legislator w/a PhD in economics who had been in office two terms already, saw the way Dems were recklessly spending. He said “Just when are they going to put mature people in office?!!” Their ideals are fantasy pie-in-the-sky. Please Vermonters, get involved.

  3. Very nicely stated, as apposed to the letter I sent to all concerned, which one Senator (the only one who replied to me) described as “snarkey” . As my favorite American Navel hero is often quoted as having said, “I am what I am, and that’s all what I am”.

  4. We live in a large house, listed on the Vermont State Register of Historic Places. Our main heating source is oil. If this passes, we will be forced to reduce our footprint (specifically, taking down parts of the house) in order to afford to continue heating it. This is what we’ve come to, eliminating our history in the cleanest state in the Union, all for an ideal, that will serve only to decimate Vermont.

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