Roper: VT media lost control of the narrative on S.5

But they’re trying to get it back

by Rob Roper

Vermont state senators, at least those on the left-hand side of the aisle, were clearly rattled by the massive public outcry opposing what they have been proudly touting as the “most important piece of climate change legislation” this session – S.5, the absurdly named Affordable Heat Act, rightfully mocked by critics as the UnAffordable Heat Act.

Rattled, yes. Rattled enough to make some changes to the bill they didn’t want to make, but not rattled enough to listen to their constituents and scrap the concept altogether. The senate passed out S.5 with what is now a slim veto-proof majority of 19-10, with just three of twenty-three Democrats bucking party leadership to vote no. The bill now moves over to the House.

But do you know who else is rattled and upset? Vermont’s major media outlets.

These reporters and editors are used to controlling the narrative – determining what information citizens are allowed to see, how that information is interpreted, and how it translates into public opinion. And make no mistake, they are in the tank for the radical left’s climate agenda and see it as their job to ensure it gets implemented. But they lost control of the narrative on S.5 and, adding insult to injury from their perspective perched inside their ivory bubble, they lost it to a bunch of blue-collar woodchucks driving around in fuel trucks.

Throughout the debate over the Clean Heat Standard, Vermont’s most widely seen news outlets did their level best to keep Vermont citizens entirely uninformed about Clean Heat Standard bill – what it would do, what it would cost, how it would impact real people. One would think that a bill that the majority party says is most important piece of legislation of the session, one that is supposed to literally transform our economy and way of life in regard to an issue that holds the very fate of the planet in its hands, would warrant some curiosity and coverage from news reporters. This is big news, right?

Nope. Our press corps knew that truthful, detailed answers to these questions would not sit well with the public. If you want to make a law that will raise the price of heating fuel in a state that borders Canada, no news is good news, so an information blackout was the best reporting strategy to ensure eventual passage of the bill.  

If you do an online search for news stories on “S.5, Affordable Heat Act, Clean Heat Standard, Vermont” you will find almost zero stories by major news outlets, and those that did appear were vague on details, aspirational in tone, and one sided in their perspective.

For example, the only two stories done by Vermont Digger over the first seven weeks the bill was being debated appeared on January 27, “Natural Resources secretary presents a ‘really rough’ estimate of the clean heat standard’s cost” and on February 3, “Lawmakers dismiss Natural Resources secretary’s ‘back-of-the-envelope’ math on the Affordable Heat Act.” Both stories were attempts to shut down discussion over what the Clean Heat Standard would cost, who would have to pay, and how much – no digging into getting their readers answers to those questions.

Nevertheless, and much to our media’s chagrin, word did get out through some small, alternative news sites (Behind the Lines included!), some letter writers, but mostly through paid advertising and grassroots communication by small, mom and pop fuel dealers. (The state’s two largest fuel dealers, which stand to profit from subsidies and competitive advantages in S.5, are in favor of the bill.)

The total statewide ad buy by the fuel dealers is reported to be about $34,000, or, to put that in perspective, a little bit more than what the independent House candidate for my home legislative district of Stowe (population of about 4500) raised for his campaign in 2022, and a little less than what the Democrat raised. So, $34K is not a lot for a statewide campaign needing to reach 647,000 people.  

Why am I telling you this? Because as the Clean Heat Bill goes to the House, the Vermont media is already beginning to spin a new narrative about how the massive public backlash against S.5 is the result of “greedy oil companies” spending big money on a misinformation campaign to scare Vermonters into not supporting a bill that is really nothing but wonderful. It’s a false narrative.

And I’m willing to bet that as these stories come out, the reporters will neglect to mention that the myriad of special interest organizations supporting S.5 have huge budgets and an army of lobbyists in the State House every day who are paid – most quite well – to get lawmakers to vote for things like this.

VPIRG alone, for example, with an overall organizational annual budget of over $2 million, has fifteen registered lobbyists. Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) with a $1.5 million budget has seventeen. The Conservation Law Foundation has seven. Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility has two.

Of the businesses that stand to benefit financially from S.5 and support the law, Vermont Gas systems has seven lobbyists, Green Mountain Power has eight, Vermont Electric Co Op has nine, Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA) has five, Washington Electric has two.

Up against that phalanx of money and business suits, small Vermont Fuel Dealers have one lobbyist to speak on their behalf: Matt Cota.

All these groups were actively trying to get constituents to call their senators to support their position on S.5 before the vote, which is what’s supposed to happen in a representative democracy. The pro-S.5 advocates failed. Not for lack of resources, not for lack of effort (if you want to see one of their sales pitches, check this out), but because Vermonters overwhelmingly do not support a program that will force them to pay more to heat their homes. Senator Randy Brock (R-Franklin) said he received over 700 notes, emails, and phone calls about S.5. Three were in favor of it. His story was not unique. But, the bill passed the senate anyway.

And if you want to understand why when many multiple thousands of Vermonters call their legislators and plead with them to vote NO on a bill, but a supermajority of lawmakers vote for that bill anyway, the power of these special interest groups and the fact that our press corps is in bed with them is a big reason why.

This is the real story that Vermonters need to see about passage of S.5. Well-funded special interests are pulling the politicians strings, the media runs cover for them, and whatever regular Vermonters think and need from their government comes second — if at all. But, sadly, there aren’t a lot of news outlets who are going to write that story.

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,

Categories: Commentary, Media

16 replies »

  1. This lack of reporting by the Free Press on important issues is why I cancelled my subscription. I get my news from the VT Daily Chronicle.

    • Likewise on input, and I canceled the Burlington fishwrapper years ago!

  2. The fact that certain legislators listen to lobbyists and special interest groups rather than their constituents ought to be enough to deep six said legislator next election cycle. Clearly this isn’t something Vermonters want, quite the opposite. These legislators have opened a hole so wide the opposition candidate next time around should be able to drive a semi through it.

    Pound it, pound it, and keep pounding it. Door to door if you have to. Make a pledge that you’ll take no special interest money, that lobbyists will be removed from your office immediately if not sooner. Point out what the media has been doing. And most of all, don’t play nice. This Green New Deal is just more of the New World Order. Shout it so everyone will hear, on a grassroots level.

    BTW, VT Digger is the biggest rag I’ve ever seen. Again, take the name and expect the opposite. I know, old news, right? They have never dug out any fair story that I can remember, although I admit I stopped reading them a good seven years ago. There is no free speech at VT Digger. Don’t expect it, and never, ever support them.

    • You got it straight up, Robin! Now all we need to do is to get most other Vermonter’s heads out from, er, where the sun doesn’t shine to get them to understand as well.

      And that’s going to be virtually impossible so long as Vermont enables & allows out-of-state brainwashed know-it-all college kids to control these elections.

      Vermont GOP? Ya out there yet? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    • Best example of disregarding constituents is Ruth Hardy who blocked emails from constituents who were asking her to vote against S5.
      Nice “representation” Democrat style!

  3. This just proves the same thing we’ve known for a long time. The Democrat progressive left wing establishment is in control of the media, not just nationally but even here locally in Vermont just like Twitter.

    And they are silent because it’s not about climate at all. It’s about making your life as unaffordable as possible so that the only person who can step in and save you is the government. It’s the same thing as eroding the middle class and printing the dollar out of existence. They all have the same effect, fleecing you of your wealth.

    Just like Bernie says, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. What’s really amazing is that 90% of the time it’s his policies that are actually causing it. How’s that for a politician?

    How else are they going to get you into tiny little smart cities like in Logan’s run? Fear and manipulation. They’ve been pushing the fear for years now. Energy manipulation will change what you can and can’t do with your life, and if they tie that to digital money, you better learn how to trade well.

    Hi, we’re the government and we’re here to help.


  4. No free press. No free government. Welcome to the Green Mountain State!

    You legislators and the phony media need a whole ‘lotta old fashioned Sicilian gents with monikers such as Mickey Scars and Crazy Carmine relocating to some nice waterfront properties here in Vermont to assist in convincing you that “it’s just NOT RIGHT being a fascist”. OR – as I might prefer to describe these good fella’s as: “Lobbyists”.

    And as a former New Yawka AND someone of Italian descent, I’m neither “discriminatory” nor “Xenophobic” – just bein’ honest. So please – don’t give me no flack.

    Besides, if there’s another thing VT desperately needs anyways – it’s a few really good pizza joints. And just a helpful hint for any of you native Vermonters out there: If anything “untoward” or “unfortunate” ever happens to transpire while you are dining in one of these fine business establishments, ALWAYS remember: Leave the gun, take the Cannoli.

    YOU see where I’m comin’ from, right Mr. Bananas?

  5. I haven’t seen, not only, any mention of the costs of S.5. I also haven’t seen even a note about the new construction of 82 (that’s right 82) new coal fired power plants in China.
    S.5 is only a law designed to destroy Vermont and benefit a group largely financed by out of state interests.

  6. “Senator Randy Brock (R-Franklin) said he received over 700 notes, emails, and phone calls about S.5. Three were in favor of it. His story was not unique. But, the bill passed the senate anyway.” Thank you Senator Brock. What does that tell us about the overwhelming majority of those under the “Golden Dome”? They don’t care what we think. They’re smarter than us, and will always do what is in “our best” interest, regardless of what we say or do. Vote them out ! Term limits !

  7. All this act is going to do is make low income people have to choose between keeping warm and eating. Natural gas is one of the cleanest sources of heating. But these idiots in Montpelier are god and know better.

  8. There’s lots of unnecessary suffering in the US empire. Look what the same powers-that-want-to-be have done to San Francisco or LA. They’re now setting their sights on Vermont’s fair valleys and green hills.
    It’s time to consider our legal right to succession. Do we really want $5B in costs for this nonsense? We already have Vermont Yankee with safe new generation fuel. Thank you very much.
    An independent Vermont Republic won’t cost that much. However, we must not be shamed into thinking this titanic is going to turn on a dime.

    • I’m not against what your saying, but in order to do it how do you get the vote past all the progressive invaders here now? We can’t get rid of the foreign body of out of staters who occupy the legislature as it is. They even speak progressive, they have their own language as in the Affordable Heat Standard when there’s nothing affordable about it. Proposing something and getting it done are two different things. Why aren’t we boycotting the Vermont liberal news? I stopped watching WCAX, Listening to WDEV and stopped reading Vtgravedigger. If you wish to be coddled and lied to keep doing Vermont liberal news. How about VPR? Can anyone think of a reason to listen to their garbage?

  9. I contacted my senators to urge them to vote no for S5 and they did vote no and I thank them for it. I was not contacted by any fuel dealer or was I influenced by the fuel dealers ads. I don’t want S5 to pass because it is a terrible bill from the beginning and I am not fooled by the two year study. I’m fairly certain that most of the representatives of Franklin County will vote no for S5. I say most but unfortunately the Rep for my district will vote in favor of it. Of course it is well known that he totally supports solar projects. I agree the media has done a poor job of reporting on the pros and cons of S5. Here are some other issues the media is doing a poor job of reporting. Gender affirming care for minors without parental consent,
    the safety of the abortion pill, parent’s concern over transgender students in sports and locker rooms, allowing parents to put x on birth certificates instead of gender. I no longer trust the news reporting and I have stopped watching most of it. I really like Vermont Daily Chronicle because I know Guy Page does fair and accurate reporting.

    Back to S5 , I know the no votes are outnumbered by the yes votes but this bill must not pass. We must continue to let the Legislature know that the people of Vermont do not want this bill. Rob Roper , you have done a wonderful job educating the public about this bill and I thank you. I’ve been listening to you for years.

  10. I in fact emailed Emma Cotton on January 21st and asked why she was not reporting on this story, but I received no response and the little article(s) you point out would certainly be considered under-reporting if not just plain poor reporting. VT Digger has left this entire story very guarded along with most other organizations in Vermont. Many thanks to those who have made it more public and let’s hope they can be financially supported as the debate continues.