I am writing on behalf of Campaign for Vermont Prosperity, asking you to carefully weigh the value versus the potential harm that can be done by introducing a carbon pricing scheme on heating fuels. Every equity expert that has testified on S.5 has agreed that it will likely hurt low-income Vermonters, those on fixed incomes, rural Vermonters, and our historically marginalized. We share this belief. Carbon-pricing is a blunt instrument that is almost certain to do unintended harm to Vermont’s most vulnerable.
Further, it is not responsible public policy to pass a spending bill of this size without understanding the full impacts on taxpayers (in this case any Vermonter who heats their home in the winter). Legislative protocol dictates that every spending bill should have a fiscal note attached to it from the Joint Fiscal Office. No comprehensive fiscal analysis has been done on the overall impacts of the bill. This stems from Article 9 of the Vermont Constitution, which states that “previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evident to the Legislature to be of more service to community than the money would be if not collected.” Again, no serious effort has been made to show that carbon-pricing is of more service to the community than if this money was not collected from Vermonters or spent on an alternative program.
The Agency of Natural Resources has proposed a study that would address both of these points, looking at workforce availability, systems impact analysis, the optimal carbon-reduction method, and the financial impacts on Vermonters.
Even worse, without this analysis, we might inflict financial harm on Vermonters without seeing the greatest environmental benefits. There are real unanswered questions about the viability of heat pumps (in a climate like Vermont’s), the reliability of such systems as primary heating sources, and the availability of technicians to install and service them. The bill clearly intends to push Vermonters towards that technology. The problem is the technology just isn’t mature yet. And, the energy mix currently used to power those systems today may possibly introduce MORE carbon into our atmosphere than currently available fossil fuel systems do. You can see more analysis on this in our recent policy brief on this topic. These are serious questions that need to be answered before we move forward on a carbon-pricing scheme.
That is not to say we shouldn’t do anything. There are a number of things we could invest in that have a higher return on investment in terms of environmental benefit. The Agency of Natural Resources has a report that lists some of these options (and also the ones it probably makes sense to stop investing in). In our recent brief we also offer some other suggestions for policy makers to look into, such as reforestation and new geothermal.
In summary, the up-front costs of the heating systems contemplated in this bill are still too high, they are not reliable enough (on their own) to keep people warm throughout Vermont winters, the cost of installation and maintenance, and the cost of the credits will strain families’ budgets. Protections for low-income, fixed income, rural, and marginalized Vermonters are lacking in S.5.
I know our legislature has many good people who do not want to harm our most vulnerable. You do not have to vote for this bill simply because clean-energy lobbyists or party leaders say you do. I urge you to take a step back and find the answers to the questions concerned Vermonters are asking. Then, with all the facts, you can move forward with a bill that pursues energy solutions that are affordable, responsible, and meet the goal of lowering our carbon footprint.
President, Campaign for Vermont
Pat McDonald’s distinguished career includes 20 years in a wide range of leadership positions throughout state and local government. She served as Commissioner of Labor, Commissioner of Employment and Training, Secretary of Transportation, Deputy Commissioner of Education, Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, and Commissioner of Human Resources (twice) under the Republican and Democratic Administrations of Governors Snelling, Dean and Douglas.
See Figure 1: https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2022/WorkGroups/Senate%20Natural%20Resources/Reports%20and%20Resources/Energy/W~Ed%20McNamara~Annual%20Energy%20Report%202021,%20%20DPS~1-15-2021.pdf
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