By Guy Page
S.5, the Affordable Clean Heating Act, will be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee this afternoon Thursday, February 23.
The job of the Appropriations Committee is to budget state spending recommendations for the entire Senate. In big-ticket, big-change bills like S.5 – a proposal to transition heating homes and buildings from fossil fuels to electricity via a hefty carbon surcharge on fuel dealers – the ‘what’ is usually decided by policy committees. Senate Natural Resources and Energy last week voted out the bill unanimously, although admitting important details – such as cost – were unclear.
The ‘how much’ is often left to the Appropriations Committee.
If Appropriations stays true to its traditional role, it will put a pricetag of state spending for S.5, at least for the coming fiscal year. Whether it will take a deeper dive into the overall cost of implementation – estimated at $1.2 billion over several years by the Agency of Natural Resources, far less by renewable power advocates on the Climate Council, and far more by the free-market Ethan Allen Institute – remains to be seen.
The Appropriations hearing begins at 2:30 PM and can be seen via livestream on YouTube. Scheduled to give testimony are June Tierney, Commissioner, Department of Public Service, Sens. Christopher Bray and Anne Watson of Natural Resources and Energy, and Ellen Czajkowski, Office of Legislative Counsel.
S.5 has seen hard lobbying on both sides. VPIRG, a lobby group led by leaders and founders of the Vermont renewable power industry, wrote this week to its supporters: “The closer this bill gets to passage, the harder we’ve seen opposing fossil fuel companies and right-wing lobbyists push back, and we’re expecting a fight.”
In fact, S.5 is supported by the state’s biggest fossil fuel dealers: Vermont Gas Systems, the largest natural gas provider in Vermont, and Irving Oil, a large national oil dealer. It is also true that the smaller dealers are opposed.
Many critics are also politically right-leaning – such as the Ethan Allen Institute and its president and former GOP congressional candidate Myers Mermel. However, some of the most vocal opponents are left-leaning environmental advocates like Annette Smith and James Ehlers of Vermonters for Clean Energy (VCE), who assert that the aims of the renewable power industry are often destructive of the Vermont environment, and that Vermont’s poor are the first and most likely people to suffer as S.5 raises the cost of fossil-fuel energy – as it is designed to do.