Business & Economics Energy

Climate Plan Is All Pain, No Gain

The Executive Director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association testified before the House Energy & Technology Committee that if the “Clean Heat Standard” currently being contemplated becomes law, he expects it to drive ten to fifty Vermont home heating fuel dealers (oil, propane, natural gas, and kerosene) out of business. This would cost multiple hundreds of people their jobs and leave tens if not hundreds of thousands of Vermonters scrambling to find new heating fuel suppliers. 

One of those fuel dealers, a small business owner with six employees servicing the home heating fuel needs of 1600 Vermont homes, testified that, yes, the Clean Heat Standard, with its bizarre and complicated mandates for dealers such as himself to create or buy clean heat credits, “…will put us out of business. We’ll be out of business day one…. We’ll just be gone.”  

He also testified that the added cost of those “clean heat credits” coupled with decreased supply of dealers and fuel could drive the cost of propane up to $8 to $10 per gallon (currently about $3.70/gal), which would put severe financial stress on a majority of Vermonters — homes and businesses — trying to stay warm through winter.

“Let me start by repeating that no one, least of all me, believes Vermont can stop climate change — or even affect climate change.”

Rep. Scott Campbell (D-St. Johnsbury)

The objective of the Clean Heat Standard, as well as other provisions of the Climate Action Plan created under the Global Warming Solutions Act, is to make it so prohibitively complicated and financially painful to do anything with fossil fuels (heat your home, power your vehicle, cook your food, maintain your yard, etc.) that you “willingly” give up trying to do so. It’s a torture technique.

The legislators fashioning this red-hot poker of a policy know just how painful it will be for their constituents. Rep. Laura Sibilia (I-Dover) of the Energy & Technology Committee said as much, “I understand the scale of change that we are talking about here creates enormous stress.” They just don’t care. At least not enough to stop the torture.

They also don’t seem to care that as they turn off the supply of fossil fuel heating options, the alternatives don’t yet exist either in terms of technological maturity or at logistical scalability to replace them. Cold climate heat pumps, for example, don’t really work yet in weather as cold as Vermont’s gets, and, even if they did, the labor force in Vermont doesn’t exist to install them at a rate necessary to meet GWSA demand. So, even if you scream “uncle” and beg to replace your oil furnace with heat pump you may not be able to, at least not for a long time. You’re just stuck with a big heating bill.

Sibilia justified her position, “I don’t want to lose a single one of you [fuel dealers], but I believe we have to move. I believe in climate change. My kids believe in climate change. We can see the evidence of it. Our utilities are demonstrating for us the evidence of more significant weather patterns, and how that’s impacting us.” 

But the problem with this line at moral justification is that the Climate Plan and the Global Warming Solutions Act will have zero impact on the list of things Sibilia (and others who think as she does) puts forward as reasons why we “need to move.” Future climate trends and temperature curves will not be bent; future weather events will not be deterred. The pain inflicted all these people will serve no material purpose.

Even the most ardent supporters of the Climate Action Plan admit this. Rep. Scott Campbell (D-St. Johnsbury) said in a letter to a constituent, “Let me start by repeating that no one, least of all me, believes Vermont can stop climate change — or even affect climate change.  It’s tempting to focus on that narrow issue because of the specific metrics in the law, namely the required greenhouse gas reduction thresholds (leaving aside the unfortunate name of the Act),” and, “GWSA will not ‘mitigate’ climate change…”

So, if that’s the case – and scientifically speaking it undeniably is – why exactly do we “have to move” in this direction, at this time, at this pace, at all? Answer: we do not.

The Clean Heat Standard is nothing but a mix of self-righteous political theater covering up some lucrative cronyism between elected officials and the favored businesses and non-profits that will be allowed to create and sell clean heat credits, which, for them, will amount to free money, all courtesy of our higher heating fuel bills.

Vermonters need to ask if it makes any sense for the primary policy objective of state government at this point in time to be a massive dose of painful and costly economic disruption – described by one Climate Council member as “a Mack Truck coming at [Vermonters]” – that will leave us less financially and physically secure for absolutely no material benefit. Put me down as a hard no.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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