By Annette Smith, Vermonters for a Clean Environment
Not all ideas are good ideas. Beware false solutions – like the Clean Heat Standard, H715.
Bad for people
Make no mistake, H.715 is a direct attack on Vermonters who are least able to afford it, designed to punish them for their heating energy “choices”. The few family-owned small fuel dealers who have testified say if enacted they will be out of business, day one. H.715 itself places the already-stressed liquid fuel supply marketplace in turmoil if the governor’s veto is over-ridden. Customers will be left with large corporations able to benefit from the “credit” system that requires multi-thousand dollar investments in heat pumps, new stoves, weatherization, and fuel switching.
Some Vermonters who have invested thousands of dollars in heat pumps tell me they cannot afford the electric bill in winter, and find the heat pumps are useful only for air conditioning in summer.
The goal of establishing a Clean Heat Standard is to report overall reduction in emissions through buying and trading credits, rather than reducing pollution at source. Proponents argue that the free market will guide the process towards the cuts that are the cheapest to make. These greenwashing schemes allow corporations to profit through buying and selling credits in what is essentially a shell game.
The legislature and governor are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into weatherization and energy saving initiatives that reduce pollution at source rather than through complicated credit schemes that enrich corporations at the expense of Vermonters. H.715 is not needed to address the urgent issue of climate change.
Bad for the environment
H.715 misrepresents the word “Clean”. 350vt’s analysis of H.715 shows that more than 50% of it will be met by biofuels. The biofuel marketplace is exploding globally, trading the damaging effects of fossil fuels for the damaging effects of biofuel production. The industry is on steroids globally, planning to fuel aviation and every country and state in the switch from fossil fuels to biofuels. Land conversion is taking place at an unprecedented rate, in the Amazon, the midwest, Indonesia, with destruction of ecosystems, biodiversity, converting food production to fuel production, with serious negative impacts on local populations.
Genetically engineered soybeans are the primary source of biofuels proposed to meet the Clean Heat Standard.
Using biofuels to heat Vermonters’ homes is neither Clean nor Just, would likely not result in significant carbon emissions reductions, and would add fuel to the fire of land conversion at a time of tremendous biodiversity losses. Step One is weatherization which is receiving millions of dollars in funding from this legislature and governor.
Billed as the hallmark recommendation from the Vermont Climate Council’s Climate Action Plan, the Clean Heat Standard rose to prominence only because the week before the hastily-completed Climate Action Plan was delivered, the Transportation Climate Initiative fell apart. In VCE’s watchdog role holding corporations accountable, I spent hours watching and engaging in Climate Council meetings, especially the meetings of the Cross Sector Mitigation (CSM) subcommittee which produced the Clean Heat Standard.
The Climate Council’s recommendation of the Clean Heat Standard was dominated by the CSM subcommittee, and that subcommittee was dominated by Rich Cowart of Regulatory Assistance Project and co-author of the CHS, Liz Miller of Green Mountain Power, and Jared Duval of Energy Action Network, all of whose organizations stand to benefit from Vermont’s establishment of a Clean Heat Standard. Members of the Climate Council saw the final plan 12 hours before the meeting where it was adopted. Members of the Ag & Ecosystem subcommittee have expressed feeling powerless, noting a “deferential hierarchy”, especially compared to the CSM subcommittee, and a lack of procedural equity between subcommittees.
Ag & Ecosystem’s recommendations about biomass were tabled rather than included, and the topic is still under investigation even though proponents of the Clean Heat Standard have attempted to derail the discussion, claiming the Public Utility Commission (PUC) will now address it through the Clean Heat Standard.
H.715 is what most people would consider a “two year bill”. Rushed through in the second half of the biennium, no time was taken for public hearings from fuel dealers and Vermont consumers; very limited testimony was taken from fuel dealers who are the most affected entity who have no experience with the PUC. House committee testimony was dominated by proponents and Senate committee testimony did not include people who requested to be heard.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s amendment had the unfortunate result of reducing the amount of time the PUC is given to complete its work, from June 1, 2024 to Jan. 15, 2024. The PUC was not consulted about whether they can complete the massive amount of work prescribed by H.715 prior to approval by the Senate and the House. Based on VCE’s experience with rule making at the PUC, it is unrealistic to think that everything the PUC is required to do in H.715 can be completed in 18 months. At the very least, the PUC should’ve been consulted.
Two decades ago, one of the proponents of the Clean Heat Standard was pushing electricity deregulation. Surrounding states adopted it, while the Speaker of the Vermont House stopped it at the 11th hour. Electricity deregulation has proven to be a failed public policy.
Not all ideas are good ideas. The Clean Heat Standard is bad public policy. Please sustain Governor Scott’s veto and let this poorly developed concept end before it, too, fails at great cost to Vermonters who can least afford it. Vermont is addressing climate change with hundreds of millions of dollars in real world actions.
Annette Smith of Danby is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.