Editor’s note: This commentary is by John McClaughry, who is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.Gov. Phil Scott has created a Vermont Climate Action Commission, in support of his commitment that Vermont will shoulder its share of the U.S. obligation under the Paris climate agreement. This is the Obama agreement which, to the horror of the climate action boosters, President Donald Trump excused us.
It’s worth tracing the history of climate action inventions back to 2002. In that year Gov. Howard Dean, planning his run for president, went to Quebec to endorse an enviro-produced climate action plan for the northeastern states and provinces, chock full of scary predictions about the dire consequences of inaction.
The Dean-endorsed plan committed the states and provinces to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 75 percent below 1990 levels. Each state would achieve this by forbidding their utilities from buying fossil fuel-produced electricity, requiring or subsidizing “renewable energy sources,” driving down industrial energy use by enforcing “cap and trade” emission limits, and cracking down, through regulation and/or taxes, on people buying SUVs and pickup trucks. (This is only a sampler.)
In 2005 Gov. Jim Douglas obliged the enviros by creating a six-member Governor’s Commission on Climate Change, chaired by a prominent solar farm developer. Its 2007 report declared that Vermont is at “grave risk,” and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is “the major challenge facing Vermonters in years to come.”
It proposed the now-familiar menu of penalty taxes (“feebates”) on low miles-per-gallon cars, vans and trucks, land use controls to funnel growth into state-designated high-density population centers, a sales tax on motor fuel (not to repair deteriorating roads and bridges, but to discourage internal combustion transportation), a taxpayer-financed carbon offset fee for state government activities, mandated purchase of renewable electricity from wind turbines and solar farms, and a plan to indoctrinate public school children with Green theology. All this would be carried out by a climate super-government called the Vermont Climate Collaborative.
Lest anyone question these imperatives, the report opened with the profoundly anti-scientific statement that “the time for debate over the realities of global climate change is over.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Douglas signed Act 168, which set goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, and 50 percent below by 2050.
Peter Shumlin returned to lead the Senate in 2007, and became the principal sponsor of S.350, ardently promoted by VPIRG, “to make global warming the top priority of everything we do, not only in government but in our own personal and private lives.” Any disagreement, he smugly said, was “simply irresponsible.”
The Shumlin-VPIRG bill proposed a climate super-government, a state CO2 emissions cap-and-trade program, and a bewildering array of task forces and working groups to produce a host of reports advocating new regulations, controls, mandates, plans, rules, standards, taxes and subsidies.
Elected governor in 2010, Shumlin created a “Climate Cabinet,” pumped up the subsidy-distributing Clean Energy Development Fund, signed a Renewable Portfolio Standard bill to force utilities to buy wind, solar and hydro power, and – curiously – led the battle to shut down Vermont’s only carbon dioxide emission-free power plant, Vermont Yankee.
In 2014 VPIRG and its allies launched their push for a carbon tax, promising to suck in $500 million tax dollars in its 10th year, skim off $50 million to benefit their friends and donors, and (not believably) return the remaining $450 million to government-favored recipients.
In his 2016 campaign for governor, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott explicitly rejected industrial wind and repeatedly said he would veto a carbon tax. In July, however, he joined in the lamentation over Trump’s withdrawal from the Obama Paris agreement. He announced that he bought into the unlegislated Shumlin decree that Vermont must be made to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and also Shumlin’s unlegislated adjustment of Vermont’s statutory CO2 emission reduction goals.
Now we have Climate Action 4.0. Four of the new Scott commission’s 21 members work for Scott, including the appointed chair, and none of the leading climate subsidy warriors are on the member list. Scott directed the commission to fully accept his principles of spurring economic activity, growing Vermont businesses, and putting Vermonters on a path to affordability. Scott’s order also did away with Shumlin’s Climate Cabinet.
Scott has rejected fossil fuel divestment and supports affordable Canadian hydropower. He prevented an increase in Efficiency Vermont surcharges on ratepayers’ monthly bills. Coupled with his rejection of a carbon tax and its fallback euphemism “carbon pricing,” it looks like the most Scott will accept from his commission might be tax credits and sales tax exemptions for people who buy pricey electric and hybrid vehicles and some energy efficiency products.
Given the restrictions of Scott’s anti-carbon tax, pro-economic growth and pro-affordability positions, a cynic might conclude that his creation of a likely unmanageable 21-member commission may excite the climate change lobby, but it won’t produce much more than stirring exhortations. Let’s hope so.