Correction: House did NOT delete climate bill S.5 checkback. But there is a workaround

By Guy Page

The Vermont Daily Chronicle got it wrong yesterday when we reported that the Vermont House has weakened the crucial ‘checkback’ provision in S.5, this year’s climate change bill. In fact, the checkback provision added by the Senate remains unchanged in the House version.

Rep. Laura Sibilia

Rep. Laura Sibilia, vice-chair of House Environment and Energy, brought this error to VDC’s attention in the VDC comment section yesterday. We are sincerely, wholeheartedly appreciative of her doing so. Had she not, our reporting would have remained factually inaccurate and superficial and would not have uncovered this fact: 

A potential ‘workaround’ of the checkback was already in S.5 when passed by the Senate. And it’s still in the House version, which was approved April 14 by House Environment and Energy and referred to the Appropriations (budget) committee. Approps is reviewing S.5 today and has scheduled a possible vote for late this afternoon. 

Here’s the backstory and explanation. S.5 would create a carbon-reduction incentivization program to tax carbon-based heating fuel and redirect the proceeds to non-fossil fuel heating and weatherization. In response to intense citizen pressure – what one senator called “thousands of phone calls and emails” – the Senate added a checkback provision that would 1) require a study on the impact of implementation and 2) an affirmative vote by Legislature before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) plan can be implemented.

With the addition of the checkback in the Senate bill in early March, concerned Vermonters and besieged senators alike breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed that no action would or could happen without an affirmative vote of the Legislature. 

As it turns out, that’s not true. 

Another clause in S.5 already allows the Public Utilities Commission to issue carbon reduction orders regardless of the study and the two-year checkback.See page 19 of the PDF of S.5 on the legislative website

§ 8126. RULEMAKING (b) The requirements to adopt rules and any requirements regarding the need for legislative approval before any part of the Clean Heat Standard goes into effect do not in any way impair the Commission’s authority to issue orders or take any other actions, both before and after final rules take effect, to implement and enforce the Clean Heat Standard.

During a brief interview in the State House hallway today, Rep. Sibilia recognized the presence of 8126 (above) but said it’s highly unlikely the PUC would ever actually issue any orders to implement and enforce the Clean Heat Standard. 

She cited two reasons. First, the ‘legislative intent’ of S.5 is clear about the two-year pause, study, and affirmative legislation vote. Second, she said, S.5 explicitly says any PUC order may be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court: “Any order issued under this chapter shall be subject to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court” (Also on page 19). 

Afternoon discussion of S.5 in Appropriations is scheduled to begin at 1:45 PM today and can be watched live or recorded via the committee’s Zoom page.

Categories: Legislation

11 replies »

  1. I encourage everyone to read S.5:


    You will see that the PUC must design and implement the credit trading system in all its intricacy, and fuel dealers will be required to register with the state as “obligated parties” before any “checkback” happens. The horses will all be in the starting gate.

    Note that the bill currently only requires the legislature to approve the PUC’s rules, not review a new bill, with a new number, that goes through the standard lawmaking process, whereby citizens can weigh in on the known true dimensions of the Clean Heat Standard in the appropriate committees as was discussed in Senate Appropriations. Citizen input as provided in the current bill is limited to 6 required public engagement sessions hosted by the PUC, and the ability to submit comments, while the rules are being created. These sessions will no doubt be dominated by VPIRG, REV, CLF, and other well funded lobbying groups and special interests.

    As Legislative Counsel pointed out to Rep. Sibilia’s committee more than once, this very complicated bill attempts to find a balance between hurting Vermonters by increasing the cost of heating fuels and satisfying the statutory requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, whose crafters purposefully made emissions targets mandatory without regard to cost, and in a particularly vile move, invited lawsuits against the state from anyone if progress toward the targets faltered.

    Now supporters of S.5 point to the mandated targets and the “unfunded liability” posed by these invited lawsuits as justification for passage of S.5 (and more bills in the next session dealing with transportation and renewables.) This chicanery is not the work of honorable lawmakers. The GWSA is legislative malpractice and must be repealed.

    A bill to do just that was ignored this session, much to the detriment of Vermont’s citizenry, who prefer to be left alone rather than be subjected to the uncertainties contained in S.5’s 42 brain numbing pages. They have made that clear to their representatives, whose votes on S.5 in the coming days will show if they listen to their constituents, or to their own self-righteous egos.

    When the legislature is faced with final approval of the PUC’s rules in 2025, as long as the GWSA’s “statutory requirements” are in place, lawmakers will say they have no choice but to unleash this monster.

    • Indeed I did- and saw verbiage elsewhere in the as-passed version other than sec. 8126 that looked like an easy workaround to my untrained eye.
      ms. sibilia’s assurances immediately lead me to believe the opposite is already planned by legislative leadership and the groups that wrote this bill. If we have learned anything in the past three years, it’s that the integrity of ALL politicians is suspect, not just those in our legislature.

    • Maybe it might be a good idea for Vermonters to comment on the actual zoom meetings produced from these sessions. I haven’t heard from any people in my small area of Vermont that are actually FOR S.5.

  2. I already read sec. 8126 and have no reason to accept Rep. Sibilia’s assurance that it is highly unlikely that the PUV and VCC will not play sneaky games to get around whatever language stands in their way., and we can be assured that the “public engagement” sessions will feature VNRC’s marching band of gullible teenagers and maybe a couple of VPIRG polar bear suits as well.

  3. What are they going to do when they bankrupt the people of the state and the earth still keeps getting warmer

  4. There is a bit of semantic game going on here. The differences we should be focused on are not so much what house and senate versions say, but rather what the perception created with the public regarding the senate’s “check back” amendment was and what’s actually in the bill. I think I, like most folks when they heard about the check back and study being done between now and 2025 that this meant moving forward with the Clean Heat Standard was on hold until the costs were evaluated and a full plan could be reviewed by the legislature. That’s how it was sold. But this is not and never was the case. The PUC ‘shall’ issue all the orders and create all the rules in order put the CHS into place. They are going to build the full machine between now and 2025. The vote by the General Assembly in 2025 will be whether or not to flip the on switch for the thing the PUC just spent many millions of tax dollars building. You can hear the talking points now… “We’re too far along to turn back now!” Sorry, but this is a real con game.

    • Semantics or Gaslighting? I’m convinced of the later. No rational person would subject their constituents to the effects of S.5- especially now that the perils on adopting this legislation are clear- as well as the stated goal of carbon reduction in the atmosphere having been admitted as negligible- by the legislature themselves.
      S.5’s real intent becomes clear, if one were looking at this bill as a means of controlling the population thru energy. If one’s objective was to further create dependence on government, S.5 achieves that goal. If one wanted a growing totalitarian government, S.5 achieves that goal. If one wanted to throw economic chaos on a population, S.5 is a great way to do just that. Reduce carbon and greenhouse gasses? Not so Much.
      As you contemplate the inner workings of the S.5 scheme, I’ll remind you that currently 57% of New England’s electric grid is powered by natural gas. In two years,
      that number won’t change.

  5. Governor Scott’s veto message last year on the Clean Heat Standard will need very little modification if S.5 reaches his desk:

    “I have clearly, repeatedly, and respectfully asked the Legislature to include language that would require the policy and costs to come back to the General Assembly in bill form so it could be transparently debated with all the details before any potential burden is imposed. This is how lawmaking and governing is supposed to work and what Vermonters expect, deserve and have a right to receive.

    What the Legislature has passed is a bill that includes some policy, with absolutely no details on costs and impacts, and a lot of authority and policy making delegated to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), an unelected board. And regardless of the latest talking points, the bill does not guarantee a full legislative deliberation on the policy, plan and fiscal implications prior to implementation. By design, this bill and the inadequate “check back” allows legislators to sign off on a policy concept – absent important details – and not own the decision to raise costs on Vermonters.

    For these reasons I cannot allow this bill to go into law and strongly urge the Legislature to sustain this veto.”

  6. Thank you for the correction Guy Page. The plaintive cry of Rep. Sibilia was impossible to ignore. To be misrepresented is indeed a very disturbing feeling. Perhaps she may now understand the bitter taste of misrepresentation thousands of Vermonters feel when their legislators ignore their pleas about a malevolent bill that will invade their lives and pocketbooks.

  7. Guy Page shows he is ethical, moral, and displays journalistic integrity. The State of Vermont is creating laws based on lies and deception. Their thievery and perversion is in hyperdrive. The days of the despots running a renegade, criminal, treasonous, belligerent occupation is coming to an end. Declared and decreed.

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