By Mark Colburn (co-authored with Hope Colburn)
Since hearing concerns from many fellow Vermonters about the recent House vote on the bill entitled Vermont Clean Heat Standard, I have done considerable research on the Vermont Climate Council’s Climate Action Plan and the Vermont Clean Heat Standard.
What I have learned is very concerning. We are a multi-generational, native Vermont farm family, with a lot of money invested in our agricultural operation, ranging from beef cattle, cropping, vegetable growing, poultry raising, and a very large investment in maple syrup production. Fossil fuels are a very necessary part of our energy needs. The nature of our operation and equipment does not lend itself to electrification.
I had written my Vermont legislative representative about my concerns over high heating oil and diesel fuel costs as a result of this bill. In their answer to my concern about the future cost of heating oil and diesel fuel (fossil fuel) for our agricultural operation, they stated that we might expect to see a 1.5% increase per gallon for fossil fuels. Off-road diesel fuel for our equipment, which is less expensive than highway diesel for trucks because of no highway use tax, cost us $4.13/gallon on March 11. If it goes to say $8/gallon in the near future, that will be a 200% increase, not a 1.5% increase!
The VCC has stated that they want to push the price of fossil fuel so high that the average Vermonter can’t afford them and will have to go electric. Even if this is denied by some, it is no secret that this is one of the goals. We can’t “go electric” in our agricultural business but will go out of business because we cannot afford $8/gallon heating oil for our sugaring operation where we boil sap from 40,000 taps to make 10,000 gallons of maple syrup each year.
Nor can we afford $8/gallon for diesel fuel for our equipment. Boiling that much sap with wood products is not feasible either. People won’t and can’t pay us $75/gallon for our maple syrup. I have heard rumors of a possible exemption for agricultural businesses. That poses two distinct problems: if fossil fuel use in Vermont is really as bad as some try to tell us, how can you exempt agricultural businesses? Will forestry equipment be exempted? How will that go over with the construction companies and their fossil fuel use? What will the highway truckers think of carrying the burden all by themselves? Get ready for some serious blowback.
For those Vermonters who are expected to heat with heat pumps, unless you have just built an extremely energy efficient house and install multiple heat pumps, you cannot heat it with a heat pump during Vermont’s coldest winter months. Even with a highly efficient home, you will need something for fossil fuel backup heat. Reminds me of the fallacy of going “green” by depending on solar and wind electric energy. What happens in a bad winter ice storm when the solar and wind electric generators can’t produce for days? Answer… crank up the fossil fuel electric generators, if the owners can still afford to keep them in standby mode.
We are only one of many Vermont businesses that have the same fossil fuel energy needs. To have a council of unelected members set future energy standards for all Vermonters for the foreseeable future, which do not appear to be obtainable, is not good governance. It will be very injurious to the average Vermonter’s economic wellbeing and lifestyle. Some legislators who support the Climate Action Plan report have stated in writing that all of these efforts will not stop or even affect our climate change. These major and drastic actions being initiated will not result in any temperature decrease.
If you or I were entering into a business venture that required a large sum of money and would have enormous consequences on our financial and physical and mental wellbeing (stress related), we would certainly want to do due diligence before jumping in with both feet. That said, I, like many other Vermonters, am at a loss to understand why the legislature would not want to wait for the March 15, 2023 report on the projected costs and benefits of the Clean Heat Standard. When the VCC was appointed in October of 2020, they were tasked with coming out with their report by December 1, 2021. They rushed to make that deadline. The first go around on a project as large and life changing as this requires a second look. There is no reason to rush.
Since the legislature will be getting a report on the projected costs and benefits of the Clean Heat Standard on March 15, 2023, why would waiting a year for all of this to settle out make a difference? Answer, it wouldn’t. After seeing the report, the legislature might find it harder to pass it. The relatively small amount of CO2 emissions the State of Vermont will put out over the next year is tiny relative to the world or USA emissions.
Vermont produces the least CO2 emissions per year of any state in the US. Vermont produces annually only 0.1% (1/10%) of all the total US CO2 emissions! The next state, Delaware, produces 2X as much as Vermont at 0.2%. This statistic is one that I have never seen nor heard during all the discussions about Act 153. Why? Vermont’s percentage of the annual worldwide CO2 emissions is so infinitesimally small that I would have to use up so many zeroes to the right of the decimal point that I would run out of zeroes.
Shame on those 96 House legislators for voting against the amendment to wait for the March 23, 2023 report before voting on the VT Clean Heat Standard.
In reading Governor Scott’s December 1, 2021 Administration Signing Statement on the VCC’s report, I am concerned about references to the VCC’s recommendation for state-level land use planning and statements, like a state-wide goal on “no net loss” of “natural lands”.
To add insult to injury, I just came across House bill H.606, Community resilience and biodiversity protection. Very concerning to us and will be to most Vermonters when they dig into it. Most Vermonters don’t like state wide land use planning and control of this nature.
The more I learn about the VCC, the Climate Action Report, the Clean Heat Act, and other parts of the Act 153, and how the majority of our Vermont legislators are accepting this as fact without fully understand the ramifications of it, the more concerned I become.
Mark and Hope Glover raise beef cattle and produce maple syrup at their farm in Glover.