Rep. Mark Higley: Why I proposed repealing the Global Warming Solutions Act – VTDigger
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This commentary is by state Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell.
My bill, H.74, would repeal the 23-member Vermont Climate Council and the Climate Action Plan and revert to goals in the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan.
It would remove a provision that any person may sue and a prevailing plaintiff shall be awarded reasonable costs and attorney’s fees if the state government is not meeting our benchmarks in the Climate Action Plan. It would also repeal the rules adopted by the Agency of Natural Resources, following California’s Clean Cars Standards. We would still have to follow the EPA’s Clean Air Act.
Since adoption of the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2020, we have been through a pandemic, a war that has affected fuel costs, and a possible recession, all affecting affordability issues for all Vermonters. Our workforce is lacking numbers, here and across the country, slowing our ability to accomplish what’s needed for reaching these benchmarks.
I was serving on the Energy and Technology Committee when the Global Warming Solutions Act passed 9-2. It then went on to the House and Senate, where it passed, and was then vetoed by the governor. The Legislature overrode the governor’s veto. He believed the structure was an unconstitutional separation of powers.
The Comprehensive Energy Plan, updated every six years, was just updated in 2022. The Comprehensive Energy Plan covers all energy sectors (electric, thermal and transportation), and it sets new goals for each sector.
In the Electric Sector: meet 100% of energy needs from carbon-free resources by 2032, with at least 75% from renewable energy.
In the Transportation Sector: meet 10% of energy needs from renewable energy by 2025, and 45% by 2040.
In the Thermal Sector: meet 30% of energy needs from renewable energy by 2025, and 70% by 2042.
Last year alone, the state spent $215 million on climate change initiatives in its 2023 budget.
As a builder and hobby farm owner, I have certainly seen the effects of our changing climate. I believe we need to take a step back and really consider how these proposals will affect Vermonters in the coming years. The Global Warming Solutions Act has locked us into achieving benchmarks rather than goals. The 23-member Climate Council was appointed by the speaker of the House, Senate Committee on Committees and members of the administration. This unelected committtee has the charge of how best to meet these carbon reduction benchmarks.
The Climate Council’s initial support was for the Transportation Climate Initiative, TCI for short, which was a cap-and-trade (gas tax) proposal, which fell apart after many New England states decided not to join. More recently, the Agency of Natural Resources has adopted rules following California’s Clean Car Standards. This proposal stipulates no new internal combustion engine vehicles will be sold in Vermont by 2035. Even if you purchased a vehicle outside Vermont, you would not be able to register that vehicle here.
Now, there is the second attempt in passing the Clean Heat Standard, S.5, being called the Affordable Heat Act (tax on fuel oil, propane, kerosene). The new version still lacked “details on costs and impacts” and delegated outsized policymaking authority to the three-member Public Utility Commission. The Agency of Natural Resources secretary has estimated the S.5 fuel-cost impact at 70 cents a gallon, and Ethan Allen Institute estimated as much as $4 a gallon.
We receive an annual report from the Climate Council every January. It stated “the current plan and suite of actions does not add up to achieving the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act.” The biomass subcommittee recommends not approving the McNeil biomass plant’s heat recovery proposal in Burlington, and also recommends the closure of both it and the Ryegate biomass facility over time. This would be a loss of a market for Vermont’s low-grade forest products. The McNeil plant burns 76 wet tons or 30 cords of wood an hour, and Ryegate burns 250,000 tons of chips per year. It has also recommended banning gas cookstoves by 2035.
This shortsighted effort to electrify with prescriptive remedies doesn’t allow for innovation of options for the future. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just certified NuScale Power’s small modular reactor. Each 50-megawatt module leverages natural processes, such as convection and gravity, to passively cool the reactor without additional water, power, or even operator action. Vermont Gas Systems is looking at a hydrogen pilot program with GlobalFoundries to heat its Essex Junction facility. This technology and others, if considered, could save our ridgelines from wind and our fields from solar.
I’m realistic enough to know H.74 will not be considered in today’s political majority in Montpelier. However, I will not stop advocating for a balance in what Vermonters can achieve and afford in efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
In closing, a quote from William Nordhaus, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics, that requiring “deep reductions in living standards” to chase climate goals would amount to “burning down the village to save it.”