Despathy: VPIRG’s twisted irony

Little Vermont, not Big Oil will be paying for the Unaffordable Heat Act

by Alison Despathy

It is both disturbingly ironic and shockingly hypocritical that Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), would coauthor a commentary entitled, Make Big Oil pay, not Vermont taxpayers. This does not add up on any level.

Alison Despathy

VPIRG lobbied hard and testified multiple times at the statehouse in favor of S.5- The Unaffordable Heat Act. S.5 will ultimately make many Vermont taxpayers pay more for heating fuel in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. There is a real disconnect here and the question as to whether Vermont taxpayers should be coerced to pay must be turned directly back to Burns for an answer and explanation.

Maybe we could all agree to place S.5 on hold while the Superfund lawsuit that Burns describes is considered. Many Vermonters are struggling with basic expenses and inflation. In the meantime, the emphasis can be placed on expanding and ensuring a workforce to help Vermonters who choose to take advantage of the green subsidies offered in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Vermonters are already paying more due to hyperinflation and legislation such as the IRA which is funded through the continued printing of money which decreases the value of a hard-earned dollar.

On March 24, The Wall Street Journal reported,

“The Inflation Reduction Act may go down as one of the greatest confidence tricks on taxpayers in history. Democrats used accounting gimmicks to claim the partisan law would reduce the budget deficit. But now a Goldman Sachs report projects its myriad green subsidies will cost $1.2 trillion –more than three times the law’s supporters claimed.”

There is a trending theme in the title of bills in which their impact is the direct opposite of their name. The Inflation Reduction Act leads to increased inflation. S.5–the Affordable Heat Act– follows suit here and will make heat more expensive for many Vermonters. High hopes, deception, ignorance–tough to say– but ultimately confusion and manipulation are the result. When S.5 hit the Senate Appropriations Committee, the chair Senator Kitchel recognized this situation and called out the problem with the name—Affordable Heat Act. These bills do not make Big Oil pay, they make tax payers pay.

Instead of increasing the price of heating fuel, it would be sound policy to offer zero and low interest loans to Vermonters who would like and are able to take advantage of the green subsidies offered in the IRA, which they are already paying for and will be for a long time in the form of inflation. Punishing those who cannot act on the eligible measures offered in S.5 with higher heating costs is unethical and wrong.

It is important to note that Ben Edgerly Walsh, Climate and Energy Director at VPIRG has also stated that S.5 “Will finally require the fossil fuel industry to help fund the transition to cleaner, more climate friendly heating solutions in an affordable and equitable way for Vermonters.” Yet small businesses and the end users of the heating fuel – Vermonters – will feel the brunt and pay more with S.5. Maybe VPIRG’s advocacy action and time would be better spent hiring lawyers to make Big Oil pay instead of altering policy and law in Vermont to achieve their goals at the expense of Vermonters, Vermont businesses and the heating sector in a New England state,

As Burns points out, polluters should pay to clean up their waste. Enforcing the laws on the books would be in the best interest of the people and the earth. Many corporations that pollute and poison humans and the earth have long neglected their duty to honesty, quality and safety in their products. The choice of profit over the health of people and place is nothing new. The fact that proper regulation and oversight has not been happening offers a glimpse into the problem with our federal regulating agencies, their corporate capture and ultimate failure.

The tobacco industry blazed the path for deceptive marketing and the use of “science” to create controversy and question to distract from actual truth and harm. This has long been the pattern of many industries. If federal regulating agencies were actually doing their job versus receiving significant funds from the industry they are intended to regulate and playing the revolving door game then we would most likely not be contending with rampant poisoning of the earth and humans.

There is no doubt that Mr. Burns is acting from a place of concern for the earth and our environments but sacrificing and burdening Vermonters and Vermont businesses in order to cover costs and force change will not help Vermont, our economy or save the world as envisioned.

An idea for consideration would be to promote a Vermont commitment to reduce or eliminate purchases from outside of America—to buy local. A little research and one finds that a medium sized container ship that can go through the Panama canal uses 63,000 gallons of fuel per day at a full speed of 23mph. It is roughly 6,881 miles from Shanghai to LA which brings consumption on average to over 1,000,000 gallons of fuel for one ship to make the voyage. Reducing even one container ship would have a much stronger impact than S.5 will ever attempt to offer, especially given the fact that not all Vermonters will be able to take action on this legislation.

It is well known that legislators rely on advice, guidance and the creation of legislation by lobbyists, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and non-profits such as VPIRG. Analyzing this situation and assessing special interest priorities in relation to the needs and rights of the people is necessary and epitomizes the complexity of creating sound ethical policy. Legislators hold a duty to serve and protect their constituents while simultaneously solving problems.

Regardless of intention, S.5 lacks the balance found in sound policy where issues are addressed and people’s rights, livelihoods, and cost of living are protected and intact. Working to achieve environmental justice while bringing social injustice to Vermonters is not ethical policy.

The crux of S.5 is the policy design and funding structure which is not surprising given the Clean Heat Working Group consisting of Energy Action Network members wrote this legislation and hold stake in its passage. S.5 is not partisan legislation in the sense of winners or losers, it is more specifically the failure of legislators to design a functional implementation plan that does not bring collateral damage, increased costs and a stranglehold on the heating sector which is integral to the safety and welfare of Vermont.

Energy independence and affordability are goals that make sense. Taking the advice of scientists from a variety of fields and perspectives to inform decisions is an integral part of the conversation in the creation of policy. However, this information must be tempered with common sense and reality offered by the legislators in service to the people. If legislation intended to achieve specific goals burdens Vermonters (as does S.5) limits diversity in efficient, functional heating options, then it is not a real solution.

Aside from the question of the Vermont-specific Climate Change Superfund Act as discussed in Burns’ commentary, S.5 does exactly what Paul Burns posits should NOT happen- it makes Vermont taxpayers pay more to “solve the climate crisis.” The fact that this connection was not made by Burns raises concerns and demands he answer his own question: who should pay?  

Categories: Commentary

6 replies »

  1. The ideal that the producers/profiters of a product will need to take ownership of that products’ impact is gaining traction. Our acceptance of this idea will not be served by laws such as this.

  2. Never will so many suffer for no benefit for Vermont or world climate. It would also help if every Vermont customer did not have to pay every month toward “efficiency” which is neither effective or economically efficient.

  3. Some things never change! When I was in the Senate several years ago, Democrats introduced “Farmers’ Protection Act” that was directed at Monsanto specifically and was opposed by most farmers; and Affordable Healthcare legislation that even Governor Shumlin determined was not “affordable” and discontinued. Good intentions, reverse labeling, and resulting harm to our neighbors…

  4. Pay more and more for heating? That’s one choice that the growing poorer will be required to do. Others can muster the means to avoid that trap and move out of state. It’s not only homeowners who will move, fuel dealers will take that option too. Welcome to the incredible shrinking Vermont road signs are on order.

    • But Mike, MAYBE that is the objective anyway? ” (Act 59) establishes State goals of conserving 30 percent of the land of the State by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050. It requires the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to develop an inventory of the existing conserved lands in the State and a plan on how to reach the ambitious goals.”

  5. Many are waking up to the fact that NGOs and non-profits are now nothing more than grifter organizations and a scourge upon society. I foresee a good many of them folding and disappearing in the not-so-distant future.

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