Promise that “nothing would move forward without affirmative action by the future legislature,” is shown to be very, very false.
by Rob Roper
Back at the end of February, S.5, the Clean Heat Standard bill, was in danger of dying in the Senate Appropriations Committee. A majority four out of the seven members couldn’t support a bill that handed over responsibility to the unelected Public Utilities Commission for totally remaking our economy and energy policy with without knowing exactly what the plan or the costs would be. But, this was a signature piece of legislation for Democratic leadership, so some sort of way forward had to be found.
That compromise mechanism was put forward by Senator Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) and it is now know as the “check back” amendment.
Senator Dick Sears (D-Bennington), who was initially opposed to S.5, questioned Kitchel, “I don’t understand, if we’re studying something, why we’re already putting the mechanism in place to change the standards and require the fuel credits and all the other things…. So I thought you would study it, then determine whether it’s practical or not. I just want to make sure we’re studying it to determine how we’re going to make it work. Are we studying it to determine if it’s practical?” Sears wanted to be assured that the legislature would have the opportunity to vote final approval or disapproval of the Clean Heat Standard after it has been studied and before it went into effect.
Kitchel assured him this was the case. “It does provide that very opportunity, Senator Sears, because of the many concerns and questions that need to be answered. We need to fully understand the impact in all aspects of what is being proposed here.” She later said again about the Check Back that “nothing [emphasis added] would move forward without affirmative action by the future legislature.” This promise secured Senator Sears “yes” vote on the floor.
But, it was and is abjectly false.
Sen. Kitchel promises Sen. Sears “nothing would move forward” without check back.
When S.5 got to the House floor for debate, Representative Anne Donahue (R-Northfield), spent a full seventeen minutes going through the time-line of the Clean Heat Standard bill pointing out all the things that move forward before the legislature will get to say anything about this policy again.
“This is not a study. It’s not just information gathering,” concluded Donahue, “It’s enacting in statute the Clean Heat Standard and all of the components of it.” Some of the timeline items Donahue highlighted include:
- Retroactive to January 1, 2023 – Actions taken, such as heat pump installations, weatherization, etc., are eligible to be registered as clean heat credits.
- Sometime between May-July, 2023 — $825,000 is released to the Public Utility Commission to pay for three new full-time employees (FTEs), consultants, per diems for members of the two advisory groups, marketing and public outreach, and translation services; and $900,000 is released to the Department of Public Service to pay for three new FTEs, consultants, and funding to complete the potential study and economic modeling.
- July 1, 2023 – The PUC opens a proceeding to establish default delivery agent and credit costs. Separately the DPS embarks on its “potential study” of the Clean Heat Standard. And the Department of Taxes provides fuel data to PUC.
- August 31, 2023 — PUC commences to write CHS rules and embarks on a series of six public hearings and workshops on CHS rules.
- January 15, 2024 — PUC hires 3rd party consultant to establish clean heat credit registry.
- January 31, 2024 — Entities that sell heating fuel in VT must register with the PUC. (The House may move this date back to July.)
- February 15, 2024 — PUC reports to the legislature with status update on development of CHS rules including economic analysis, and formally recommends funding source for administering the CHS program. The PUC will hire a consultant to develop an emissions schedule for clean heat credits, and appoint the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) that will advise and oversee the Clean Heat Standard.
- June 1, 2024 – The PUC appoints and contracts with – a contract of up to twelve years! — an entity that will serve as the Default Delivery Agent for retiring Carbon Credits, and presents a first draft of rules for the Clean Heat Standard for public review.
- January 1, 2025 — PUC establishes rate of decrease of the acceptable carbon intensity value of clean heat measures for the years 2025-2030.
- January – May, 2025 – Now, only after all of the above is put into place and funded, does the legislature get to “check back”, and then only on the rules that will govern the fully established program.
Rep. Donahue demolishes the “check back” as a farce.
“So…” said Donahue, “I think it’s really important to understand that when we get to January of 2025 it will not be the time to re-adjust, it will not be the time to assemble all the information we have gathered and enter into a decision making process. All of that information was acted upon in establishing the [Clean Heat Standard] program. This [check back] is just a thumbs up or thumbs down on the rules of implementation. We don’t even know what might be established by order, because [the PUC] can implement by order, not just by rules.”
Now that the bill is back in the Senate the question is will Senator Kitchel insist that her “check back” be modified to do what she told Senator Sears it did? Will she continue to support S.5 if the check back doesn’t do what she promised it would? Will Senator Sears continue to support S.5 now that it’s clear that the check back, as written, doesn’t do what he was led to believe?
All indications are the Governor Scott will veto S.5. The bill passed the senate on a 19-10 vote with a supporter of the bill not voting. Scott would need eleven senators to sustain. All eyes are on Senators Kitchel and Sears. Were they misled about what the check back was? Or were they misleading the public to cover their tracks? We’ll find out!
Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com