After a lengthy floor debate, the Clean Heat Standard was approved by the Vermont House 98 to 46 Thursday, April 20.
The bill directs the Public Utilities Commission to spend the next year and a half and about $1.6 million dollars on developing what can be put most simply as a cap and trade system in an attempt to lower the greenhouse gas emissions from non-transportation fossil fuels. A check-back provision in the bill requires the legislature to vote to enact the program after it is designed by the PUC but before full implementation.
If the program sounds complicated, that’s because it is, as you can see in the infographic to the left, which simplifies it as much as it can. In short, credits can be earned by certain activities, such as installing heat pumps, that reduce fossil fuel use. Fossil fuel dealers then have an obligation to purchase those credits or create their own.
Many in the legislature have taken the perspective that the bill is an overpriced study because, as we noted earlier, the legislation is directing the PUC to design the program but not implement it. The issue with that logic is that there is a high likelihood that whatever the PUC creates and brings back to the legislature, they will likely say is too well calibrated and complicated to adjust for whatever the legislature doesn’t like, and at this future date, there will be a doubt that the state will meet the greenhouse gas targets statutorily mandated under the Global Warming Solutions Act. This will lead advocates to claim that the confluence of sunk costs and impending citizen suit via GWSA means that there is no time or ability to do anything other than accept what has been presented by the PUC. That’s just our prediction, and we did predict the outcome of GWSA correctly.
The bill has been contentious for many reasons, with the potential cost being one in particular. We’ve covered, as have the press, the controversial cost estimates by the Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources that the program could add up to 70 cents per gallon to the cost of fuel, which environmentalists and some lawmakers protested as preposterous despite not having an estimated cost of their own. An amendment was offered by Rep. Jim Harrison on the floor to establish a ceiling on credits so that no more than 20 cents a gallon would be felt by customers, but that effort was rejected by a vote of 101 to 43.
After third and final reading in the House today, where Rep. Scott Beck (R-St. Johnsbury) has proposed a checkback amendment, the bill now goes back to the Senate, where it should quickly move due to the changes in the House being rather minor. This would put the bill on the Governor’s desk soon, where many expect a veto, as he has expressed dismay with the bill and requested a more extensive checkback provision. – Republished from Lake Champlain Chamber April 21 Advocacy Update newsletter