by Alison Despathy
On September 28-29, Energy Action Network (EAN) of Vermont is holding their private-members only annual summit meeting. Select members and partners include legislators, special interests, utilities and state agencies.
As discussed in a previous VDC article, Behind Closed Doors, Energy Action Network heavily influences energy policy in Vermont by providing an exclusive NOT inclusive space for collaboration between elected officials and the private sector. It does not matter that elected officials attend this summit, these meetings are not open to the public despite the fact that they greatly impact Vermonters and are fundamentally and some say detrimentally altering energy policy in Vermont.
Key Finding #1-“Vermont has a responsibility to do our part. Vermont has the second highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in all of New England behind only New Hampshire… Looking globally, Vermont’s per capita climate pollution (about 14 tons of carbon equivalent, or CO2e) is more than twice as high as the global average and significantly higher than from residents of many other countries including China and India.”
After reading this, I suffered flashbacks to my biostatistics course and its required reading of the book, How to Lie With Statistics. Using per capita comparisons is deceptive and does not take into account differences in weather, industries, employment, baselines, total populations, rural versus urban living, energy infrastructure and heating needs in relation to other states and countries such as India and China.
Vermont has the lowest population of all of the New England states, significantly lower. If this is considered with EAN’s charts and graphs, it is clearly evident that Vermont’s GHG emissions are the lowest in New England and many other areas. As a hypothetical example of actual numbers, Massachusetts has an estimated population of 6.97 million which when factored with the report’s noted 10.4 per capita GHG emissions for MA would bring their total GHG emissions to 72,488,000 metric tons of CO2. Compared to Vermont with an estimated population of 649,150 and a 14.1 per capita GHG emissions bringing Vermont’s total GHG emissions to 9,153,015 metric tons of CO2. In their report, EAN states that “Vermont’s emissions stood at 7.99 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020.” In 2019, the Boston Community of MA alone emitted 6.2 million metric tons of GHG.
With this perspective and significant difference, Vermont quickly and drastically moves to the bottom of the list regarding GHG emissions. This also doesn’t include the fact that Vermont is 75% forested thus holding a natural and massive carbon sequestering sink. Also many Vermonters are in right relationship with the environment and work hard to achieve sustainable living practices.
In the report, EAN states, “Vermont has made the least progress toward the Paris Climate Accord targets of any state in the region. That said, each state started from a different baseline presenting different opportunities for progress. For instance, a significant factor in Maine’s emission decline has been reductions in high carbon fossil fuel use in their electricity sector. Vermont has less opportunity to achieve reductions in the same way, because our electricity portfolio was much less carbon intensive to begin with.”
In essence, Vermont was way ahead of the game to begin with, had already made significant impacts and shifts but sorry- these don’t count. So while Maine has surpassed the Paris Climate Accord targets, destructive burdens and unrealistic demands are placed on Vermonters by their elected officials who heed orders from a global entity not focused on Vermont’s specific situation and unable to determine what would work best and is supportive to both the people and the environment of Vermont.
This entire scenario begs the question of whether GHG emissions are the best indicator of sustainability, progress and the health of humans and the environment. GHG emissions are merely a metric that can be utilized for politicized science and by those who intend to fundamentally alter energy policy regardless of collateral damage. GHG emissions offer no indication of the actual health of land, water, air or humans within an area. GHG reductions in Vermont bring no known meaningful impacts but can be measured, regulated, exchanged and traded in today’s booming carbon and data markets. This is not a real solution and certainly does not serve Vermont.
EAN’s Key Finding #5 states, “Vermonters with low incomes are disproportionately burdened by energy costs.”
However, it is not discussed that S.5 will lead to even greater energy costs for many who cannot take on the approved eligible measures for a wide variety of reasons. Some Vermonters simply do not want help from the state because they work hard and are fiercely independent, Many currently use old sweaters, jeans, and newspapers to help insulate their homes, they harvest their own firewood and prioritize self-sufficiency. Continuing efforts in weatherization and efficiency are key and will actually make a difference in reducing energy burden and cost. When renewable energy products have shown their effectiveness, worth on the market and are affordable and not ethically compromised, people will jump on board. Adding to the already existing burden of energy costs by increasing the price for a basic necessity such as heating fuel is cruel and runs contrary to the deceptively named S.5 “Affordable” Heat Act.
Next up on the schedule at 10:50am is a Q and A Panel focused on Climate and Energy Leadership in Vermont, moderated by Gabrielle Stebbins, of the House Energy and Environment Committee and Co-Chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus. The panel itself will consist of:
Secretary of State- Sarah Copeland Hanzas and Lauren Hibbert
Attorney General Charity Clark
State Treasurer- Mike Pieciak
Lieutenant Governor- David Zuckerman
Senator Christopher Bray- Chair, Senate Natural Resources and Energy
Representative Sarah Coffey- Chair, House Transportation
Representative Amy Sheldon- Chair, House environment and Energy
Members of this panel are referred to as Vermont climate and energy leaders. They are elected public servants who have taken an oath to serve the people and ensure sound policy. Is it possible to be a climate leader and a public servant? Which priority will take precedent? Will the people be sacrificed as the climate leaders impulsively enact burdens and unrealistic and unknown costs on the people, as is the case with S.5 legislation. There is an inherent conflict here. This ethical dilemma compromises legislators agency and ability to independently assess and create legislation. Will they choose the people or destructive agendas as climate and energy leaders enmeshed in climate hysteria? What will they discuss and what impacts or policy ideas will develop here? People deserve to know, yet they won’t.
Welcome to stakeholder capitalism where the public and private sectors join forces and the people are locked out, pay the price and lose their voice and representation. Of particular note is the participation of Sarah Coffey, Chair of House Transportation. With the Global Warming Solutions Act mandates, Vermont’s transportation sector is next on the chopping block. Many Vermonters are deeply concerned that the transportation sector will be compromised in a similar fashion as the heating sector via S.5.
The next panel focuses on Funding Climate Action In Vermont. An awfully important question considering the fact that if enacted, S.5 will be funded by Vermonters, most of whom are struggling to pay basic expenses and survive rampant inflation.
US Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Energy and Water development asked David Turk, the Department of Energy Deputy Secretary how much it will cost American taxpayers to make the US carbon neutral. Turk agreed this could cost trillions, even as much as $50 trillion dollars. Kennedy did not stop there, he then asked Turk, “If we spent $50 trillion to become carbon neutral by 2050 in the USA, how much is that going to reduce world temperatures?” Turk did not have an answer because as the United Nations own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated,
“The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”
The EAN report also notes the challenges with existing workforce shortages. With S.5, people will be paying more for heating fuel while they quite possibly wait years to have work done that may or may not work in their home or have any level of an impact on their heating fuel use.
Supportive measures such as continued weatherization and ensuring that those who want to take part have access to Inflation Reduction Act subsidies and supplemental funding via affordable loans would be the carrot approach. Instead legislators have run with the stick approach of increased costs and limited options. Many will take a beating and feel the pain.
It seems Energy Action Network is facilitating fascism/corporatism. On a local level we are witnessing public private partnerships that circumvent a transparent public process and step away from representation of the people and civic engagement.
Vermonters deserve an honest public process regarding legislation and policy in Vermont. These meetings at Energy Action Network interfere and thwart the ability of the people to engage in this process. Accountability and transparency are non-existent in these public private partnerships developed via Energy Action Network. The people most affected by these decisions are kept out of the process. Instead of the legislators acting as independent agents, critically assessing industry driven agendas and proposals, they are fully embedded with the players and all of this is happening out of the public’s eye and behind closed doors.