by Guy Page
S.5, the controversial “Affordable Heating Act” that would create a carbon credit program and raise the costs of fossil-fuel based heating fuels, was approved by a key House committee late last week with at least one major change: the ‘checkback’ added by the Senate under extreme pressure from citizens has been removed.
The checkback requires the Legislature to review and vote on specific costs and impacts of the carbon emissions reduction scheme after a two-year study.
As reported by the Campaign for Vermont, “In the House, the bill creating a carbon tax credit system advanced out of the Environment & Energy Committee with a concerning amendment that guts the “check-back” provision added by the Senate. This provision would require that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) bring the proposed rules (and cost estimates) to the legislature before they go into effect in 2025. The new changes allows the PUC to largely skirt this “check-back” requirement.”
The bill has been sent to the House Appropriations Committee to determine its impact on state spending. If approved without a significant checkback, the House version of S.5 will need to be reconciled with the Senate version if the bill is to become law.
The checkback was the key Senate concession earlier this session to what one lawmaker called “thousands” of phone calls and emails expressing opposition to a bill guaranteed to raise heating fuel prices – with the only disagreement being how much. The State of Vermont Agency of Natural Resources estimated the impact at 70 cents per gallon.
S.5, the Affordable Heating Act that is the successor to last year’s vetoed Clean Heat Standard Bill, was approved by Senate Appropriations by a 4-3 vote.
Among several amendments approved by Approps, the most sought after by critics was the ‘check back’ with one major change sought by its opponents, who say the plan is undeveloped, complex, and lacks clarity and transparency in its cost and manpower requirements.
The proposed checkback two years from this January gives state energy experts time to develop needed information and the Legislature an affirmative responsibility to vote on a more clear path forward.
The amendment requires that by Jan. 15, 2025, the Public Utilities Commission “shall submit to the General Assembly final proposed rules to implement the Clean Heat Standard.” No rules may be enacted “until specific authorization is enacted by the General Assembly to do so.”
Approps added that the Clean Heat Standard “shall to the greatest extent possible maximize the use of available federal funds.” It also requires customer data protection and funding for data analysts to crunch the numbers on AHA timeframe and costs.
“The checkback amendment that was approved in S5 by the Senate Appropriations Committee is a major and necessary improvement,” S.5 skeptic John Brabant of Vermonters for a Clean Environment said. “It just respects Vermonters and respects our institutions.”
Speaking on WVMT’s Morning Drive, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden) said the amendment makes S.5 a two year study bill.