The Vermont Legislature is about to give its final approval to a bill called "The Global Warming Solutions Act."Needless to say, the bill, H.688, does not solve global warming. In fact, the bill is downright bad climate policy because it prioritizes emissions reductions over environmental protection.
Here is what the bill does:
- Establishes targets for the reduction of carbon emissions from fossil fuels (while ignoring other sources, like the carbon-spewing, heat-wasting, tree-burning electricity plant on which Burlington hangs its carbon neutrality claim).
- Creates a council (whose members are unaccountable to the public) to figure out what rules need to be imposed upon Vermonters in order to meet the targets (if they can be met at all).
- Appropriates nearly a million dollars to support the council (while our budget shortfall is in the hundreds of millions of dollars).
- Uses taxpayer money to pay "any person" to sue Vermont if the council fails to bring about sufficient emissions reductions (A similar bill in Massachusetts enabled the Conservation Law Foundation to sue the state. The result will be an environmentally destructive transmission line through Maine.)
The bill gives lip service to the importance of Vermont's forests and their ability to mitigate climate impacts and absorb CO2 (they absorb more atmospheric CO2 than our cars and trucks emit).
But the bill's only targets relate to carbon emissions from selected sources. So, the real effect of the bill will be to provide statutory justification for the environmentally-damaging energy projects that a majority of Vermonters oppose.
These high-impact projects provide meager emissions reductions (GMP says its Lowell Mountain turbines avoid the emission of 74,000 tons of CO2 each year—that's less CO2 than pre-pandemic Metro NYC traffic produced in half a day).
More importantly, these projects degrade the natural resources that defend Vermont from climate impacts like extinctions, increased vulnerability of our infrastructure to storms, and the loss of food and water security.
No doubt, the Global Warming "Solutions" Act will require Vermont to discourage certain types of energy consumption — perhaps with a carbon tax. Tax enthusiasts will trot out studies that show that the tax will be welcomed by low-income Vermonters who live paycheck to paycheck. Other studies will show that it will create jobs and prosperity.
But, higher energy prices will cause more Vermont businesses to relocate to states or countries with cheaper (and dirtier) energy, laxer environmental regulations, and weaker protections for workers. We will continue to buy their products and services, so our actual carbon footprints will grow. But, the Global Warming "Solutions" Act's flawed metric will show a reduction in emissions, so those of us who can afford to remain in Vermont will feel good about ourselves because we will have solved global warming.
Finally, we must not forget that the Vermont Senate considered this bill under the rules that were set up to facilitate legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill's supporters took advantage of every shortcut those rules offered — refusing to hear testimony, disenfranchising some of their colleagues, and operating with an opacity created by technological glitches and an inadequate Internet infrastructure.
These are some of the reasons that we are asking Governor Scott to veto this bill and to work with legislators to develop real, effective climate policies — policies that do more than enrich the energy developers who profit by exploiting the good intentions of Vermonters.
Mark Whitworth is president of Energize Vermont, a non-profit organization that promotes sensible energy and climate policies for Vermont. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.