By Rep Gina Galfetti
Democracy is only as good as its weakest link. And in the Vermont State House, we have a lot of weak links.
A page [eighth-grade messenger] breezed into the House Environment and Energy Committee meeting room and delivered a message that soon elicited cheers and claps from most of the members in the room. S.5 had made its way out of Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee on a 5-0 vote.
S.5, the UNAffordable Heat Act is now on its way to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee. At this time it is unclear how many Senators support the bill. But we can be sure that the bill has enough votes to clear the Senate and move to the floor of the Senate and upon passage there it will be sent to the Environment and Energy Committee in the House then House Appropriations and onward to the House floor.
S.5 will doubtlessly be passed in both the Senate and the House and it will then fall to the Governor to veto the legislation. Provided he vetos the legislation a coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Progressives will dig in at our Alamo and make one last stand to prevent this short sighted and poorly engineered legislation from becoming the law of the land. I mention all three parties because 1) I know of several Dems and Independents that do not support this legislation and 2) There are simply too few Republicans in the House or the Senate to do this on our own. We have to build a coalition on this issue if we seek to uphold a veto.
Now I know there are plenty of you out there that are calling me a dreamer but we have no option but to roll up our sleeves and go after the facts to build a coalition. The biggest problem that proponents of the would-be Act have is that they have glossed over the problem that S.5 will disproportionately affect low-income Vermonters. Vermonters that can not afford to install heat pumps, weatherize and install water heater heat pumps, period. No matter how big the credits are they will never be large enough to allow low-income folks that live paycheck to paycheck be able to install heat pumps.
When I was a kid my mother, a single working nurse with my brother and I to support, lost her furnace in the dead of winter. We did receive some help from Efficiency Vermont but if it had not been for my grandparent’s ability to take out a loan to offset the rest of the cost, we would have frozen that winter. My mother often had to choose between putting gas in the tank to get to work or buy milk. Many Vermonters can not afford to make an investment in a technology that would pay them back long term as the needs of their family are immediate. These long term savings that they speak of do not translate into food for a hungry family who must eat today, not tomorrow.
And it is the low income Vermonters that will hurt the most. Imagine being in the position of many older Vermonters, for instance. For many folks their home is the last large asset that they have. They are not in a position to make expensive renovations on fixed incomes. They will never see the savings promised because they will be dead before the savings come. Their homes are meant to be their security, that will see them through their decline and end of their days. Not a pretty picture to think they will be spending their last dollars on inflated fuel hastening their trip to the Nursing Home!
The proponents of the UN Affordable Heat Act have admitted on numerous occasions that they do not know how this system will be implemented. Just the other morning I had breakfast with Senator Dick McCormack and he told me not to worry. It is not the legislature’s job to figure out the details of how this system will work, but rather the job of the Public Utility Commission.
He said that the legislature makes policy and doesn’t need to understand complex math!
Math like Myers Mermel of the Ethan Allen Institute presented to McCormack’s committee last week. McCormack admitted that he couldn’t follow the math but was willing to ignore the conclusion that Mermel had come to – that fuel prices could jump $4 per gallon!
The Democratic party in control of the Vermont Legislature, right now, is the weak link in Democracy, right now. They are force feeding an environmental agenda to folks that need real food not words. They are ignoring the math and blazing forward congratulating themselves on meeting climate goals.
We all want to preserve our precious planet, we all want to conserve and help mitigate climate change. But in a State that is so small and carbon neutral, must we drive our people into poverty to do it? I think not. We can continue to make the brave steps forward but we must be able to see the path, the consequences both intended and unintended.
Neither we nor the planet can afford to wait for two years when it proves out that this legislation will not work. We must look to enact legislation that is effective and has demonstrable results with both short and long term goals. We might not be able to do it the way we had hoped but we must do it in a way that does not drive more people to have to decide between food or heat.
I implore every person that reads my piece this week to not be a weak link and call or email their Senators and Representatives and tell them to vote no on S.5.
Gina Galfetti is a Representative for the Washington/Orange District and can be contacted at:
802.461.3520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Categories: Rep. Gina Galfetti's Floor Report