by Alison Despathy
On January 10, in the Caledonian-Record newspaper, a commentary entitled, Climate Action with Deliberation by Julie Moore was published. Julie Moore is the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and a cabinet member on the Vermont Climate Council. I was both grateful and impressed with her honesty and willingness to openly discuss the concerns, risks and impulsive nature of the Clean Heat Standard (H.715) now called the Affordable Heat Act (S.5). I hope Vermont legislators will consider her warning.
Moore opened with a frame around the essential need for disagreement and debate in politics. She identified this need and its role in the process of driving effective, solution-driven, best practices in policy development. She called for conversation, deliberation and scrutiny of this bill, specifically Moore stated,
“Disagreement in politics and over policies is not disrespect. In fact, disagreement between the public and policy makers or the legislative and executive branches can provide opportunities for healthy debate, essential to illuminating problems and honing solutions.”
Indeed, this is how real conversations happen and from this solutions and policy based on extensive research and deliberation can evolve. Many thanks to Julie Moore for bringing this to light and reminding all involved that policy and legislation around the thermal sector will impact all Vermonters, our economy, and Vermont’s future and must be severely analyzed. It is critical that this open, engaged conversation is allowed to unfold and take place so that all aspects of the issue and any potential resolution can be identified and explored.
In her commentary, Moore continues by stating,
“Sometimes, disagreements are less about the problem facing Vermonters and more about how to solve the issue. Climate action and specifically the Clean Heat Standard, is a good example of this common tension.”
This has been the case ever since this bill was proposed. The debate over the Clean Heat Standard, now called the Affordable Heat Act (S.5) has been intense, fierce at times, and absolutely necessary due to the fact there are many unknowns and risks associated with this proposed plan. Many questions remain unresolved. Moore also refers to the issues involving the existing electrical grid deficiencies and if and how Vermonters would stay warm with power outages.
With regards to the impulsive nature of this bill and what seems a relentless legislative drive to force it through without deep assessment and understanding of its impacts, Moore states,
“I am concerned the desire to do something, anything, is causing some to overlook or ignore the unknowns related to the Clean Heat Standard, (Affordable Heat Act), hard questions can and must be asked without being viewed as opposition to progress.”
The Affordable Heat Act, (formerly the Clean Heat Standard) is one of the most complicated and difficult bills to explain and understand. It essentially targets and attempts to regulate and penalize- if goals are not met- an entire sector of our state- which is integral to life in Vermont. The burden is very squarely and unfairly placed on the heating sector and the collateral damage and complications are not fully understood or imagined.
Moore discusses this burden and the risk of unknown impacts when she states:
“The reality is, if difficult and expensive mandates are enacted without ensuring they will effectively and efficiently address the problem they purport to solve, we risk not only wasting resources but also squandering the support of those who are paying.”
It is incredibly helpful to see that Moore grasps the problems associated with this legislation, to the extent that she has chosen to write and share her concerns and also question this current legislative path and its actual ability to offer meaningful results.
Julie Moore has also written previous articles related to the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) which is ultimately responsible for demanding these types of impulsive, detrimental bills. She noted the problem with the GWSA in September, 2020 when she specifically stated,
“In fact, the most significant thing the bill does is to remove from lawmakers and the governor the responsibility to decide how we will address-and pay for- this greatest challenge of our time. The actual solutions necessary will be complicated, difficult, and require input from many voices—none more important than the people of Vermont. Cutting the elected representatives of the people out of the process violates the most fundamental principles of our democracy. That is one of the principal reasons the governor vetoed this bill.”
She further stated at this time:
“Intentionally or not, the GWSA sets the state up to fail. And when we fail, the only solutions available will be litigation, delay and ultimately actions which rely heavily on potentially costly regulatory tools.”
By design, the Affordable Heat Act is not only poised to fail, it also will bring actual harm to many businesses and our economy on the whole. Many Vermonters have been voicing these same concerns and attempting the real conversation with legislators because of the risks. Unfortunately this conversation has not been allowed to unfold in any meaningful way within the statehouse, which would allow for development of an effective, real solution for Vermont.
Despite the outcry by many Vermonters from all backgrounds and walks of life, the entire democratic party -minus one – voted to overturn the governor’s veto of the Clean Heat Standard last session -we need a real conversation and thorough assessment and analysis of this bill which currently sits in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. This committee is chaired by Senator Bray and the Affordable Heat Act is also sponsored by Senator Bray.
At the end of Moore’s recent article, her summation is perfect:
“We need to remain mindful that even with a shared passion- there is a line between brave and imprudent in how we approach climate action. And that even when there is broad agreement that something needs to happen, we should not settle for anything at any cost.”
It seems imperative to hear Vermont’s Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources and a member of the Vermont Climate Council Julie Moore’s message to Vermonters and Vermont legislators. Hopefully the Affordable Heat Act will not be steamrolled through by the super, super majority and hopefully the necessary deliberation, conversation, and analysis will be allowed and encouraged as we all seek real answers for Vermont. The outcome of this bill will offer vital insight on the democratic process in Vermont and elected official’s connection with and representation of their constituents.
The author is a clinical nutritionist in St. Johnsbury.