Politics

Final Reading: Scott’s climate change philosophy has flaws, minimum wage bill passes Senate

IN JAN. 30’S FINAL READING…

The problem with Gov. Phil Scott’s climate change philosophy, minimum wage bill passes the Senate, and the Statehouse evacuation — while very cold — ran smoothly. 

THE TOP TAKE

As the Democratic/Progressive majorities in the House and Senate pursue ambitious climate action bills, Gov. Phil Scott has reiterated his opposition to dramatic new steps. 

At a Thursday press conference — his first full presser since mid-December — Scott expressed a general unwillingness to accept major new initiatives on climate, including top legislative priorities like the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Transportation and Climate Initiative. 

Instead, Scott focused on technological and market forces as the engines that will drive climate action. “Behavior is going to change. Competition, technology, everything’s going to change,” Scott said. “Within 20 years, most vehicles are going to be electric or hydrogen or something of that nature.” 

Taking action now, he implied, could prove to be a waste of effort. Of course, his own initiatives could go the same way depending on how technology changes. If, in 20 years, most vehicles are hydrogen-powered, Vermont’s efforts to encourage EV-charging infrastructure will be a sunk cost. 

Scott depicted the progress of climate action like a ski slope. Flat at first, then sloping gradually upward, then rising dramatically when social and technological changes hit. In that scenario, we can reach our long-term climate goals without significant short-term disruption. 

There are two problems with that analysis. First, political leaders have been saying this for years and it hasn’t happened yet. And second, Scott ignores all the damage that continued emissions will cause before the slope heads upward. Environmental advocates would argue that we need to push the slope forward as much as possible. 

Scott expressed particular opposition to a GWSA provision that would allow private citizens or groups to sue the state if it fails to meet its carbon emission goals. That, he said, could “take away resources from the climate initiatives themselves.” 

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That may be. But as one reporter noted, it was a lawsuit by an environmental group plus a federal mandate that forced Vermont to take long-overdue action to clean up its waterways. 

Scott acknowledged that the suit “jump-started the conversation,” but argued that a long deliberative process needed to happen in order to fashion the 20-year cleanup program Vermont has today. He prefers to pursue a similar course on climate, and feels no need to jump-start the process. 

Scott’s position has a certain internal logic, but it rests on the assumption that we can afford to wait until new technology and market forces catch up to our climate challenges. Others would argue that that will be too little, too late. – John Walters

Gov. Phil Scott speaks before signing Act 76, a water quality bill, at St. Albans Bay in August. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

— The minimum wage bill passed the Senate in a veto-proof majority — 23 in favor, six against. Reflecting on the compromise bill hashed out in conference committee, Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, said it’s taken him four years to get minimum wage legislation to this point. 

“Our lowest wage earners will be impacted. They will receive $121 million more in their paychecks,” Sirotkin said. “That’s important to people living at the edge.” – Grace Elletson 

— University of Vermont Medical Center doctors in residence visited House Human Services to express their support for a bill that would allow contraceptives — including birth control — to be given to high school students, and another that would ban flavored tobacco products. 

One statistic seemed to hit home with committee members: Vermont has the fourth highest rate of smoking among women who are pregnant. The hope among the physicians was that the flavored tobacco ban could help move Vermont down that ranking. – Grace Elletson 

— Senate Education took testimony about a bill to require high schools to carry menstrual products in women’s and gender neutral bathrooms. Jeff Francis, executive director of the Superintendents Association, worried that it may be difficult to consistently restock the products.

Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, pushed back. “I can’t see there’s that much difference … I mean, we manage with toilet tissue,” he said. “School officials have known about this problem, they just don’t do anything about it because it has to do with women, not men.” – Grace Elletson

— Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition members visiting the Statehouse said money for their trust is often taken for other unrelated projects. Patricia Tedesco, a coordinator with the Vermont Center for Independent Living, said the coalition wants that to change. 

The group is advocating to amend statutory language to ensure that dedicated money can only be used for housing and conservation work, allowing her organization “to get more folks off our waiting list of 50 names and help them remain in their homes to age in place.” – Grace Elletson

— A new report issued by Building Bright Futures shows that more children in Vermont are accessing mental health crisis services. In 2018, 227 students accessed these services. In 2019, that rose to 265. 

The figures align with a rising need for children’s mental health services in the state since the 90’s. The report recommends adding funding to support services and making mobile response units available in communities to expand access to those services. – Grace Elletson

— Rebecca Kelley, the governor’s spokesperson, confirmed that Thursday’s “weekly” press conference with Gov. Phil Scott was the first full presser since mid-December, though he has been available to take questions from the reporters during a couple events. 

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She pointed to Scott’s busy calendar for the inconsistency — holidays, big speeches, etc. — rather than any intentional effort to avoid the media. – John Walters

— The Statehouse evacuation test provided a mid afternoon adventure for some lawmakers. Those coming from the third floor committee rooms got to exit the building via the fire escape. 

“Oooooh we get to take the fire escape!” someone yelled. State employees were ushered into the Pavilion, where they had to be officially accounted for. The ordeal lasted about 20 minutes. – Grace Elletson

Lawmakers make their way from the third floor of the Statehouse via fire escape during the evacuation test. Photo by Grace Elletson/VTDigger

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK

Gov. Phil Scott held a press conference Thursday in his Statehouse office where he pushed a new workforce report and answered questions from reporters about recent news. 

Grace Elletson caught up with VTDigger’s Xander Landen to hear what he thought was newsworthy in the conversation.

GE: What caught your interest from today’s press conference? 

XL: Unsurprisingly, we saw the governor signal that he’s taking issue with some of the major priorities Democrats are taking up this year. The minimum wage bill would increase the minimum wage to $12.55 by 2022, but even though it’s a more modest increase, he’s still concerned that the rural economy can’t handle it. So I think he’s sending pretty clear signals, although he won’t say it outright, that he’s going to veto the bill.

GE: What else came up that caught your attention? 

XL: He was also pretty resolute that a waiting period for firearm purchases is something that he won’t be able to support. It’s not really a surprise because he vetoed a 24-hour waiting period for handguns in 2019. But he’s once again saying that the state should let the gun restrictions put in place in 2018 have more time to play out before there are additional expansive measures put in place. And he also said that he’s unconvinced — when reporters brought up data showing that waiting periods can reduce suicide and homicide deaths — that a waiting period is right for Vermont. 

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott speaks at a Statehouse press conference on January 30, 2020. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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Tom Evslin

Governor Scott is wise not to rush into the very expensive “climate change” plans that have been proposed. Focusing on energy is the most expensive and least productive way for Vermont to reduce atmospheric CO2. For example, converting an acre of unproductive farmland to woodland removes as much CO2 annually as completely taking 1.25 cars off the road. The cost of acquiring and planting an acre – $1100 – is one tenth the cost per ton of CO2 removed as the current incentives offered for buying electric vehicles. “cold climate” air-source heat pumps are an even more expensive way to reduce CO2.

Our neighbors in Maine count their forests as getting them 75% of the way to being carbon neutral. We can reach our goals while improving our state by reforestation. we don’t have to make driving and home heating more expensive and double down on subsidies.

More at https://blog.tomevslin.com/2020/01/trees-are-the-right-end-of-the-stick-for-co2-reduction-in-vermont.html

John Freitag

Appreciate the updates. Just trying to figure if Final Readings are straight reporting as is done by VTDigger’s Xandar Landen or opinion pieces such as done by Jon Margolis and David Moats. It seems like Grace Elleton is more of a straight up reporter while John Walters instead of quoting politicians likes to slip in his own opinions such as “There are two problems with that analysis. First political leaders have been saying this for years and it has not happened yet……..”
Mixing two distinct types of journalism in the same format is a bit unsettling.

Paul Richards

Is this supposed to be an opinion piece or a “news” piece? “Scott’s climate change philosophy has flaws…” Says who?
Why not a headline; Scott’s climate change philosophy a refreshing look at reality?

Thaddeus Cline

We have less then 12 years governor, that’s what the world’s scientists say .
You said you believe climate change is happening and humans are causing it .
But apparently your not reading anymore science reports even from the United Nations IPCC .
You had 50 some odds things Our state looked into for you on this subject.
And sir you seem not to have looked into any of them .
Why do I sir have to send this information to Vt. Digger just to get you to look at objective vetted peer reviewed reports .
Is it that hard to spend less then 10 minutes to look at the established expert ‘s reports ???
What costs do you think we will have to pay ( the whole world)
That will be less rather then more right now ?
What science group has explained that to you that we don’t know about ?
https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/

 

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