by Rob Roper
Presenting S.5, dubbed the UnAffordable Heat Act by critics, to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration, Senator Chris Bray (D-Addison) opened with a David Letterman-esque top ten list of things he considers to be “misinformation” about the bill. Or, as he more colorfully described them in his mother’s term, “malarkey.”
My mother told me when you point a finger be careful because you have four fingers pointing back at you. And there has been no bigger purveyor of malarkey throughout this process than Bray.
Outside the legislature Bray founded and operates Common Ground Communications, and he has used his professional skills to misrepresent and mislead Vermonters about what S.5 is, does, and will cost. Thankfully, one senator, Bobby Starr (D-Orleans) called out Bray, “Don’t slop lies,” about the bill.
Continuing with Starr’s theme, I have recreated Bray’s top ten list from his verbal testimony (I tried to get a written copy unsuccessfully) so voters can see just how manipulative politicians and activists selling this ideologically driven legislation have been.
1. Customer participation is voluntary. No customer is required to do anything.
Yeah…. Bray is correct that the bill doesn’t force any particular individual to do anything by law. However, S.5 does require that the Public Utilities Commission make rules that will force Vermonters to comply with mandates under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The GWSA requires reductions in thermal sector emissions amounting to, among other things, weatherizing 90,0000 homes and installing 120,000 cold climate heat pumps by 2030. Should this bill pass, many Vermonters will be forced to do these things. Those who “choose” not to comply will be made to feel extraordinary pain in the form of skyrocketing fossil fuel heating prices.
What the legislature is doing is saying, we are going to make life increasingly unbearable and unaffordable for you until you “volunteer” to do what we desire. But force you to do anything? Perish the thought.
2. There are savings available for those who participate in clean heat measures.
The bill does call for subsidies for those who bend to the government’s will, although it doesn’t say what these are or how they will be distributed. Those subsidies will be paid for by those who either defy the government’s will and continue to heat with oil, propane, natural gas, or kerosene by choice, or who are forced to continue because either the logistics of their home type, insurmountable upfront costs, or a lack of labor and/or supply chain issues prevent them from transitioning to the government’s preferred methods of home heating.
It is worth noting that one senator on the Appropriation Committee, Richard Westman (R-Lamoille), recounted that he purchased a clean heating system twenty months ago, and it is still sitting in his barn waiting for a trained technician to become available to install it.
3. If you burn oil today, you will be able to burn oil tomorrow and through 2050.
Yes, but as Senator Starr asked (and got no answer), at what cost? And, if you can still find a dealer, many of whom have said this law will drive them out of business.
4. This is a long-term program that runs from 2026-2050. “I would emphasize gradualism.”
This is just false. While the bill does, in fact, cover the time period between 2026 and 2050, there is nothing gradual about its implementation. S.5 mandates compliance with the GWSA, which has emission reduction goals set for 2025, less than two years away, and 2030, less than seven year away. To meet these goals the implementation of S.5 in terms of spending and construction must be very heavily front loaded. The CO2 reduction is gradual, any savings from transitioning to electric-based heating (if any every actually accrue, which is highly doubtful) would be gradual, but the spending and retrofitting of nearly 100,000 homes are intended by design to be rapid.
5. Fuel dealers may continue to sell oil through 2050.
Theoretically, if they are able to stay in business.
6. Fuel dealers who do not import fuel into Vermont are not “obligated” parties.
“Obligated” parties are those fossil fuel wholesalers or dealers whom the bill would require to buy “carbon credits” (the de facto excise tax on carbon heating fuels at the heart of this bill) in order to sell their products to consumers trying to stay warm. Even Bray himself couldn’t explain how this system worked to his committee. (Check out THE VIDEO, it’s quite funny.) But, as Senator Starr adroitly pointed out, it doesn’t matter where the carbon tax is assessed, it will eventually be paid by the ultimate consumer in the form of higher prices.
7. Fossil fuel prices are up significantly over the past two heating seasons. The current system is unaffordable.
While there is no denying that fossil-based heating fuels are at near record high prices at the moment, S.5 would make them even more expensive by adding what is basically an estimated 70 cent to $4.00 per gallon carbon tax on top of the retail price. Since the overwhelming majority of Vermonters heat with fossil-based heating fuels, S.5 will make staying warm in winter exceptionally more expensive for most of us. Hence the moniker “UnAffordable Heat Act.” Moreover, while the cost of oil, etc. does fluctuate between very high and low, the cost of electricity has been only rising steadily. If people do transition away from fossil fuels to electric alternatives as S.5 mandates, higher demand will make electricity costs spike as well – an unlike with the LIHEAP program that helps low income people pay for heating oil, there is no comparable program for electric bills, and S.5 does not provide for one.
8. When Vermonters use fossil fuels they are sending cash out of our economy.
Most of the electricity purchased in Vermont is from Canadian owned and other out-of-state companies, so….
In the heat of the moment, Bray skipped #9.
10. Reducing CO2 emissions isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law.
The law is the Global Warming Solutions Act, passed by the same cohort of politicians now using it as a mandate on themselves to pass the UnAffordable Heat Act. Here’s a suggestion: repeal the first law, and then you have no obligation to pass this second monstrosity.
After Bray finished with his list of grievances, Senator Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said that the concerns she’s been hearing from constituents are more general.
“Obviously there is a desire to protect lower income households,” said Kitchel, “and how the revenues get generated to provide the level of subsidy and what that level of subsidy would be, and what would be the cost per household, and how big that breadbox is.”
These are good questions that deserve answers — certainly before anyone votes to make this the law of the land. Bray doesn’t have the answers, nor does anyone else who is pushing this radical transformation of our economy and the lives of every Vermonter. Or, if they do have the answers, they are being very careful about not disclosing them to the people who elected them.
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