by Rob Roper
When the legislature passed S.5 into law, “standing up” the Clean Heat Standard program, they appropriated funds to hire six full-time bureaucrats to… do what exactly? The Democrats who voted for the bill defend their unpopular decision by insisting S.5 is “just a study.” Nothing that will eventually cause your home heating fuel bill to spike an extra $0.70 to $4.00 per gallon as best estimates say it will.
This party line talking point was again stubbornly put forward by Manchester Representatives Kathleen James (D), and Seth Bongartz (D) in a recent op-ed. To hear them tell it, “So instead of putting this program into place, S.5 commits the state to an intensive two-year fact-finding and design process. We’ll get the facts through impartial studies and draft the rules that would govern the proposed program. All of this information will come back to the legislature in 2025 to consider next steps.”
The Republicans who voted against the bill, including Governor Scott who vetoed it, argue, no, S.5 is not just a study. It immediately puts the Clean Heat Standard into law. Regardless of how the legislature votes in 2025 on the rules governing the program, the program will remain in place as the law of the land (unless, as is possible for any law, it is actively repealed.) So, who’s telling the truth?
Well, the first classified ad appeared on the Public Utilities Commission’s website seeking to fill its three newly authorized by S.5 Clean Heat Standard related positions: “one permanent staff attorney, one permanent analyst, and one limited-service (up to three years) analyst.” (The other three positions created for CHS work are in the Department of Public Service.)
Hmmm… Why is the PUC hiring two permanent employees and another to a three-year contract in order to perform just a study that’s due in eighteen months? Seems odd, no?
What will these folks be doing?
“All three new positions will focus on designing and implementing Vermont’s Clean Heat Standard. This is a performance-based standard recommended by the Vermont Climate Council, and recently enacted by the Vermont Legislature, that is intended to achieve Vermont’s thermal sector greenhouse-gas-emissions reductions necessary to meet the requirements of the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020.” (Emphasis added.)
“Designing and implementing.” Not studying. Not fact finding. Implementing…. What else does the PUC say these jobs will entail?
“The recently enacted S. 5 requires the establishment of a “clean heat credit” evaluation program, a technical advisory group, an equity advisory group, a credit tracking and trading system, and a registration system.” (Emphasis added.)
“Requires the establishment” of all these elements of the program. Again, not just study. Not just design. The establishment.
The job description wraps up:
“Specific duties of the positions include conducting public process regarding the Clean Heat Standard; researching how to establish a system of tradeable clean heat credits; establishing a registration system and records requirements for obligated entities; reviewing filings related to the Clean Heat Standard; appointing and supervising one or more default delivery agents to provide statewide clean heat measures; developing program budgets; evaluating clean heat measure credit values; drafting proposed rules; representing the Commission at legislative committee hearings regarding the Clean Heat Standard; assisting in the development of Commission policies related to implementation and enforcement of the Clean Heat Standard; and managing consultants assisting with the Clean Heat Standard.” (Emphasis added.)
So, just a study? Just a fact-finding mission? Next steps come later? No, S.5 is definitely not these things. Anybody who tells you different is not telling you the truth. Money talks, and this is what the state is going to pay people to do.
The con game taking place now is the majority party passed an unpopular program while perpetuating the fiction to their voters that they didn’t actually pass it. My prediction for 2025, when the vote on the final rules takes place, is that they will reverse themselves and tell their constituents that the Clean Heat Standard is already in place, and they are powerless to repeal it. The question is, will Vermonters pay close enough attention to recognize the first charade, and remember well enough see through the next one.
- Rob Roper is a freelance writer with over twenty years’ experience in Vermont politics and policy.