Clean Heat Standard (S.5) - Feb. 8, 2023

The Senate Natural Resources Committee returned to testimony on S.5 Wednesday, hearing from Judy Dow (Executive Director, Gedakina) who called out the Committee for listening to “only Jared Duval.” Listening to only one story is a mistake. 

She argued that S.5 does not follow the equity and social mandates in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) or the Climate Action Plan (CAP). She believes the bill MUST spell out how the impacts of the bill will be mitigated for marginalized communities. “If you don’t it’s just wishful thinking” she said.

The biomass report created by the Biomass Task Force of the Climate Council was not included in the report presented to the legislature despite months of work and promises that they would be. The Agriculture and Eco Systems subcommittee and Biomass Task Force recommendations should be included.

Dow was dismayed that the Climate Council explicitly forbade the Biomass Task Force from looking at bio-fuels for home heating use in addition to electricity generation.

She believes biofuels are not equitable. The 4500 people living near the McNeil power plant (in Burlington) are in large part low income or BIPOC and they suffer as a result of living in the proximity of this plant. They can’t afford electric cars, solar panels, etc. Where is the equity here?

They suffer from pollution in terms of health, she cited higher asthma and COPD statistics from this community. McNeil emits hundreds of other harmful pollutants other than CO2, such as benzine and formaldehyde.

Dow suggests S.5 require Efficiency Vermont to stop giving rebates for projects that use wood for heat. Make them focus on weatherization, arguing that wood is not renewable and not carbon free. 


Steven Gorelick (Citizen, Walden) spoke next. He is an environmentalist who does not support the bill.

He challenges Jared Duval’s claims for future savings if S.5 is adopted because they are based in large part on stopping future weather events and the costs associated with them. The bill will not achieve this. Regardless of the bill, Vermont will still be dealing with the problems of global warming which will negate any savings.

Climate change is not the only environmental challenge we face. We have water quality issues, pollution issues, wildlife habitat issues, etc. But this legislature seems to focus on Climate Change single mindedly, and this actually makes some of the other environmental problems worse.

Some examples he gave:

  • Since extreme weather is in our future, does it make sense to clearcut and blast our ridgelines for industrial wind projects?
  • With extreme weather knocking out power more often, does it make sense to make everyone more dependent upon electricity? 

He suggested focusing on carbon sequestration through land use practices. According to Gorelick, the Climate Acton Plan creates a perverse incentive to replace local produced products with imported. This is a flawed carbon accounting.

He believes the real solution isn’t to replace one form of consumption with another; what we really need to do is reduce consumption. Despite all the renewable energy projects worldwide, CO2 emissions continue to rise. The only exceptions are the 2009 recession and Covid lockdowns. Reducing consumption is the only thing that works.

Most of Gorelick’s neighbors in the NEK are low-income and feel that Montpelier is blaming them – their cars and oil furnaces – for climate change. And it is urban areas of the state who are pushing this policy. But the reality is that the biggest polluters are the wealthy and policy makers should go after them.

NOTE: A cross-country round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles produces an estimated 0.62 tons of CO2 per passenger. Low-income Vermonters are not likely doing this very often.

The problem, he believes, with the bill is that it does little to reduce energy consumption, and nothing to reduce overall consumption.


Alison Despathy (Citizen, Danville) was up next. She has degrees in cultural anthropology and plant science. She shared that we are all connected to the earth, and questioned what “real” sustainability is, saying that “we don’t want corporate driven solutions.”

Despathy has run a nutrition program in St. Johnsbury for 20 years and works to connect people to local food systems. She urged that Vermonters want choices and that we should lock people into electric.

She identified that the legislature appears to be putting all the pressure on the fuel dealers to handle this, and that’s not equitable. She questioned why S.5 doesn’t allow for more efficient fossil fuel systems to qualify for credits. This is a proven way of reducing carbon emissions. She believes that not allowing this makes no sense.

She also believes that the bill needs to have a true “check back” provision so that rules created by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) get a final up or down vote by the full legislature before implementation. Short of that, they should at least put a “short circuit” amendment into the bill whereby if the PUC comes back with a plan with a price tag above a certain level the law is automatically repealed.

Another issue she identified is that the carbon credit system contemplated in the bill is a game. Companies are already manipulating Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) which are commoditizing nature.


Laura Haight (Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity) shared four main policy recommendations for the Committee:

  • Add health-based standards – especially other particulate pollution from burning wood.
  • Prioritize weatherization, heat pumps, solar hot water, geothermal.
  • Remove or limit eligibility for wood burning or biofuels.
  • Clarify that GHG lifecycle analysis will include biogenic emissions.

Her issue with wood is that the cycle of trees absorbing the carbon created from burning trees (biomass) doesn’t account for the 100-year lag time involved in the carbon re-capture process. Wood burning power plants emit more CO2 per megawatt hour than coal and neither the IPCC or EPA have ever said biomass is carbon neutral.

She echoed many of the previous comments about the McNeil power plant and the equity and social justice issues involved.

Senator McCormack commented that, while not ideal, the augment has been that biomass is the lesser of evils. We can’t do everything with genuinely carbon free technology.

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