Victims are small business, your neighbors, and you
By Alison Despathy
The old cliche says, ‘the devil’s in the details.” The Vermont Legislature isn’t dishing the devilish details of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act.
Most of the time when I speak with a legislator who is in favor of S.5, I hear buzzwords. Enough buzzwords to fall drunk to the floor. “Trust, equitable, guardrails, resilience, just energy transition, affordable, energy independence.” I ask – what guardrails? Trust who? Equitable how? Who’s paying? The non-answers, misconceptions and lack of details are appalling.
So much time and money has already been spent since the Global Warming Solutions Act, the precursor of S.5, passed in 2019. Can ideological diehards walk away from a toxic bill? Will they choose Vermont or will we be sacrificed?
On February 14, Ben Edgerly Walsh, VPIRG’s Climate and Energy Director sent out an email blast to ‘Support the UN- Affordable Heat Act.’ Walsh stated, “This bill will finally require the fossil fuel industry to help fund the transition to cleaner, more climate-friendly heating solutions in an affordable, equitable way for Vermonters.”
Except it’s not affordable. Or equitable. Anything that socks poor rural people with a huge surcharge is anything but. This gross misunderstanding also permeates the State House. Rep. Scott Campbell (D-St. Johnsbury) wrote in a recent Caledonian Record article – “The only ‘obligated parties’ are the fossil fuel distributors, who until now have not been required to take responsibility for the climate altering effects of what they sell.”
These statements evade the truth that most of the 150 or so small, local fuel dealers are ‘distributors’. Senator Chris Bray (D-Addison, Chair of Natural Resources and Energy) is correct when he says the company that crosses the border owns the title and thus is the “obligated party.” But he never mentions that 80% of the small, locally owned, family fuel dealers cross state lines to pick up fuel. This effectively makes them the ‘obligated party’- now responsible for paying for this ‘just transition’. These local businesses cannot and should not carry this burden, they will have to pass it to their customers – Vermonters who cannot and should not carry this burden either. We’re already struggling to pay basic expenses.
Many think S.5 is sticking it to Big Oil and Big Oil is paying for this ‘just transition’. This is how it is sold. In reality – proponents of S.5 are sticking it to their neighbors, friends, family, and local businesses. These small, local fuel dealers provide jobs, heat, payment plans for those struggling, and often the sports uniforms, playing fields and multiple other donations that make a difference in our communities. S.5, The UN-Affordable Heat Act is exactly how you destroy an economy and a community.
Let’s look closer.
There are only two propane and three heating oil wholesale terminals in the state. Most fuel dealers, especially in rural areas, buy directly from several out-of-state wholesalers. Relying on only one means price gouging and a monopoly. With access to options, there is competitive pricing. Local fuel dealers can get the best prices for their customers.
One cannot solely rely on heat pumps – these are supplemental systems unless you are wealthy and can consider a full-on multiple heat pump install. Depending on temperatures, even this doesn’t work without backup. It also creates full dependence on the electricity grid for heat.
And everyone knows the power never goes out when it’s below freezing. Right?
Vermont’s largest fossil fuel sellers and utilities support S.5 because in the world of bogus carbon credit trading they will 1) have less competition and 2) benefit from playing the carbon market. In any scenario, the fossil fuel price increase is real and will be passed to customers – that’s the whole intent of the legislation.
S.5 does exactly the opposite of what it promises. It promotes big business including Big Oil, creates monopolies, feeds the highly profitable carbon trading market, and sacrifices people and VT businesses on the altar of ideology and bogus environmental justice. Most of these small fuel dealers have already been working for decades to install heat pumps and efficient systems that reduce fossil fuel consumption, and promote weatherization plans and renewable options. S.5 and its proponents now want to make everyone pay – literally and figuratively. That is the bottom line. It will undoubtedly bring destruction. We must demand the details and see this for what it really is – a gut punch to Vermont.
The author is a clinical nutritionist and former candidate for the House of Representatives from Danville.