Senator: Clean Heat Standard a ‘Rube Goldberg contraption’

Dem senator says he can’t vote for a bill he can’t explain

by Rob Roper

Barring a few loose ends, the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee wrapped up taking testimony on S.5, the so-dubbed “Unaffordable Heat Act”, on Tuesday morning in anticipation of passing it out sometime this week.

In a shocking admission, Senator Dick McCormack (D-Windsor) confessed, “Usually at this point in the development of legislation I can picture after the bill passes what’s going to happen. I can envision what the world can be like after this passes. I get it that what we’re essentially doing is directing the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) to put together a kind of a ‘Rube Goldberg.’” And, “I don’t see how this works.”

McCormack apologized to the other four senators on the committee, saying that it was clear to him that they all had a better understanding of the legislation than he did, and that his confusion was his own failing.

Sen. Dick McCormack

McCormack is selling himself short. He is the only one who does understand that this bill is incomprehensible, or at least is the only one being open and honest about his confusion. It is a Rube Goldberg contraption, and he can’t see how it works because it doesn’t work. In fact, it has been the explicit objective of committee chair, Chris Bray (D-Addison), that nobody is able to understand how the Clean Heat Standard will work for fear that if the people are aware of these details, the people will never allow S.5 to become law.

“We’re starting from a point of managing a certain amount of uncertainty,…” Bray warns unruly askers of uncomfortable questions at one point. This is an understatement. “We launch, and then we have a system of monitoring and assessment that lets us help the plan evolve knowing that it’s not going to be a perfect program on day one.” This is a fancy way of saying we’re going to pass this highly flawed piece of junk before anybody can figure out what’s in it. (Including, apparently, Senator McCormack!)

Bray then bemoans, “The anxiety some people feel about specifying everything prior to commencing….” And while it is reasonable to expect some uncertainties when launching any large program, Bray has made sure there are no certainties at all regarding this law.

How much will the Clean Heat Standard cost Vermonters? Bray and his committee refuse to ask. When the Secretary of Natural Resources, Julie Moore, put forward a number ($1.2 billion over four years) Bray sprung into a frenzied attempt to discredit her math. Does he supply his own cost estimates to refute Moore? No. Those will come after the bill is law and Vermonters are stuck with the consequences. No math is allowed.

Senator McCormack shared a bit of solid wisdom with his colleagues: “Never vote for a bill you can’t explain to your constituents.” Hear, hear! So here is a challenge and a litmus test for the senators. If you can’t explain the following, you should not vote for S.5….

1.     Explain the how the “tradeable credit system” that is at the heart of this bill works.

The entire reason behind the bill is to establish a system of  tradable “clean heat credits” that dealers of fossil fuels (“obligated parties”) will have to buy, and others will be able to generate by engaging in greenhouse gas reducing activities such as installing heat pumps and insulating buildings. The incentive to people and businesses across the state to generate, own, and sell these credits is the “market mechanism” that is supposed to make the whole scheme function. But identifying and verifying literally hundreds of thousands of credit-generating actions performed by tens of thousands of actors in obscure places, practically speaking, is bureaucratic quagmire.

Can it logistically even work? The PUC which is tasked with coming up with the operational plan for the Clean Heat Standard doesn’t think so and is asking that the “tradable” credit concept be stripped out of the bill entirely. If the PUC get their wish, what is the purpose of this bill?

2.     Explain who is an “obligated party” (the businesses required to purchase credits).

Defining in the bill who is ultimately responsible for buying clean heat credits is an important detail. The senators still haven’t figured this out. What they want to do – make a dozen or so wholesalers of heating fuels the obligated parties – turns out to be illegal, a violation of the commerce clause of the US Constitution. It turns out not all of the heating fuel wholesalers (the big companies that sell fuel to the small retail dealers, who in turn sell fuel directly to customers) are located in and make their sales within Vermont. Some retail dealers travel outside of Vermont to buy fuel from wholesalers in other states.

Wholesalers that do sell their fuel within Vermont borders can be regulated as obligated parties, but those that make their sales outside of Vermont cannot be.

So now what?

Senator Bray tried to answer this question himself and the results were mind-numbingly obtuse.  (Also, quite funny. HERE’s the video!) He finally gave up trying to untangle what he described as a “potentially wrap around the axle thing”.

Why can’t Bray explain his own bill? Because his committee is faced with two alternatives, and neither is practical, and perhaps not even possible, in application.

One, have some wholesalers, the ones that make sales directly into Vermont, obligated parties, and some retail dealers, those who leave the state to buy their fuels and bring them back into Vermont, obligated parties as well. This is both complicated and unfair as it creates a two-tier system for retail fuel deliverers with some as obligated parties having to buy credits and others not.

Or create an even playing field for retail fuel dealers by making all of them the obligated parties and leaving the wholesalers out of it entirely. The problem with this is there are hundreds of retail fuel deliverers of all shapes and sizes and finding, tracking and regulating them will be a nightmare 

for whoever gets assigned the task of doing so.

This conundrum isn’t “potentially” wrapped around the axle of S.5, it is firmly wrapped around the axle, and the senators don’t have a solution.

3.     How will the Clean Heat Standard deliver its promised commitment to equity and social justice for low-income Vermonters?

If S.5 becomes law, it will increase the cost of fossil heating fuel significantly for those who still use it. It will also increase the electricity bills for those who transition away from fossil fuel heating systems to electric. The law says it will mitigate the impact of these cost increases, but nowhere does it explain how.

Without a robust economic impact study – which is being assiduously avoided by the committee – we can’t even know what the potential size and scope of a necessary social safety net program will be. We don’t know who will run such a program or where the revenue source to pay for such a program would come from.

These are just a few of the many questions about this bill that remain unanswered or appear to be unanswerable. S.5 will go to the full floor of the Senate in the next week or two. Now is the time to contact your senators and tell them to live up to Senator McCormack’s standard: Explain how all this works – tell us what it will cost us – and if you can’t do that, VOTE NO!

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

23 replies »

  1. I am glad to see that at least Senator McCormack is honest enough to say that he doesn’t understand how this act would work. To be dishonest enough to not admit this would be the equivalent to a Nancy Pelosi moment where you say “pass this 50,000 page bill,and we’ll read it later.” As to the dishonesty of those who would say as a way out of this bill that they don’t know where the money would come from to implement an unfair monstrosity such as this, I would tell them they are being disingenuous as unless they have a printing press that pukes out $100 bills in the basement of the State House, or one of those endangered money trees on the State House lawn, they know where the money comes from. The same goose who
    s butt is getting sore from crappin’ out golden eggs for them.

  2. I cannot remember the last time I agreed with Sen McCormack, but he is right on target with a bullseye on this one.

  3. I cannot remember the last time I agreed with Sen McCormack on anything, but this time he is dead on target, huge bullseye!!

  4. I never thought I would say this, but thank you Senator McCormack. You apparently decided to speak with your conscience. A lot to be said for that, esp. these days. Maybe there is hope for us Vermonters that are already struggling.

  5. Wow. McCormack actually disagrees with others of his own party? That’s one for the history books. Guess what Mr. McCormack- you’re not lacking by not understanding this bill because it IS a bunch of hooey. Now it’s time for you to look into who in the legislature will benefit the most if they pass this.

  6. Keep senator Brays’ name right out there where everyone can see the stupidity of S5. We should all remember who the authors of this monstrosity are. Then, we thank them appropriately down the line.

  7. Thank you VT Daily Chronicle and Rob Roper for keeping us so well informed. At first I was not worried about the GWSA because I figured I’d be dead before the mandated requirements. Then I thought that maybe we would be saved by the mandate that it be equitable for low income and BIPOC people. I could never afford a heat pump or EV even with subsidies. Some of the points brought up by critics are not scaring me. I have been afraid of the GWSA and this Unaffordable Clean Heat bill from the very beginning. The GWSA should be repealed and this bill must be abandoned. It would be irresponsible for the legislators to pass this bill. The general public knows how terrible it is . The legislators could blame it on pandemic or the lack of available workers or the unreasonable unforeseen costs. I’d like to live my old age in peace and not fear.

  8. Notice how McDonald sat there befuddled with his head spinning, not a word of clarity. Bray surely knows how to sell his bill, like the snake oil salesman telling you the remedy is in the bottle, you just have to buy it. In the meantime, the salesman slips out of town to avoid the tar and feathers. What a crock this is, and Bray knows it. There must be some money in this for him. How else can you explain him trying to save the world from tiny Vermont. Get the tar and feathers ready! Get enough for the idiots who vote for these God-like charlatans.

  9. Yup, and yet when it comes to junk economics about how tax cuts for the wealthy will “raise all boats”, but then when it doesn’t Roper and his ilk are mum and gone when the truth is apparent that it doesn’t. But will keep selling it again.

      • From the linked article above:

        ‘Still, in this case, it’s hard to argue with the data. Not only did business- investment growth decline, but during the three Trump years preceding the pandemic, gross domestic product (the best metric of economic performance) averaged 2.5 percent, compared with 2.4 percent during 2014–16. On a chart, it appears that the Trump economy was merely an extension of the Obama economy. Riley disagrees by noting that 2016 itself was a poor year for the economy and that Trump greatly exceeded “expectations at the time.”

        I am not saying that Obama was a good economic steward. His stimulus policies were a failure, as I predicted they would be in these pages at the start of his tenure.1 As a result, instead of the usual sharp recovery after a sharp recession, we puttered along with mediocre growth. Riley may be right that low-income Americans did better for a few years under Trump, but that boomlet failed even to bring the U.S. up to its average post–World War II growth rate of a little over 3 percent despite Trump’s own claim that “I think we can go to 4 percent, 5 percent, and maybe even 6 percent.”

  10. In her 2018 book, “Going Up The Country, When the Hippies, Dreamers, Freaks and Radicals Moved to Vermont, Yvonne Daley mentions Senator Dick Mc Cormack on pages 16 and 17. She wrote, “Senator Dick McCormack, a Democrat from Bethel who came to Vermont in 1968 from New York City with a guitar and little else said “free spirit” is what would better describe him. He believed his generation was turned off to suburban and city life because American citizens had lost their connection to decision making.”
    Well Senator Mc Cormack, here is your chance to follow your concerns of half a century ago and do what is right for Vermonters. S5 is nothing but a gift to the environmental lobby and renewable industry. The bill’s pathetic, incomprehensible, pernicious and despicable babble only brings harm to your constituents with no tangible benefit. Please speak up for Vermonters and tell your colleagues on the Senate that it is time to end this farce. Rather than losing face by pushing this ahead, you will be remembered as the Senator who saved Vermont when the next history book is written.

  11. Perhaps Senator McCormack’s inability to envision the furture of this bill is the climate hoax is coming to an end. The eugenist globalists are opting to accelerate depopulation through a series of “accidents” and new strains to meet their goals. Amping up the psyops and catastrophic events to stop the great awakening and the chess board being overturned….good luck with that … God wins!

  12. Vermont is (or was) a great state. It should be obvious that Vermont has a long history of being led “By the people and for the people”. Politics was always “grass root”. The average Joe could go to Town Meeting and be heard by everyone.

    But here’s the trouble. I call it “Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker”. And if they want to move here, that’s fine. But having said that, it’s THEIR obligation to fit in, not run the place like it’s New York City where you can get whatever you want 24/7/365. That’s truly lost on them. Hey, I go to live in France, I expect to have to learn French, right? Or have I become that much of a dinosaur?

    I said that to say this. Elected office should be held only by those who’ve lived their entire lives here. Things would be more practical, money wouldn’t get wasted, schools would teach the three Rs, etc etc. A radical idea? You bet! But the current system doesn’t work for the average Vermonter, so why not consider it?

    Let’s hope and pray our entire culture doesn’t get appropriated by those who have no idea that things work differently in different places. In my experience, a handshake is still as good as a written contract in Vermont. I’d like to keep it that way.

  13. Climate money laundered and tax payer dollars squandered at every step (see steps A – N) of this pictured Rube Goldberg contraption. Perfect illustration.

  14. I trust Bray. Hahahahah.
    This bill is another education funding bill or childcare bill the state got involved in and they become nightmare legislation to Vermonters.
    When will this end.

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