John McClaughry: The Legislature’s new climate-driven priorities

Editor’s note: This commentary is by John McClaughry, the vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

The battle lines have been drawn on the state’s political landscape, and they are somewhat different than in previous years.

Traditionally, Democratic legislators have favored taxing and spending to benefit members of their electoral coalition, such as unionized workers, environmentalists, lower income families and disadvantaged groups.

In recent years, Democrats and Progs have become enthusiastic supporters of using government power to make some people bestow benefits on other people, at no cost to taxpayers. The perennial example of such issues is increasing the minimum wage, whereby employers are required to pay more money to entry-level workers. But the emerging story of the 2020 Legislature is not just the familiar battle over such traditional Democratic issues, but a contest with Republican Gov. Phil Scott over three measures that our climate change activists believe are Vermont’s vital contributions to the continuation of human life on the planet.

Upon his election in 2016 Scott pledged to make Vermonters shoulder their share of the Paris Agreement that newly elected President Donald Trump vowed to pull the U.S. out of, and did. In 2017 Scott named a Climate Action Commission to chart a path toward that goal. But Scott had also repeatedly declared he would veto a carbon tax. Thus his commission’s November 2017 report, to the dismay of many of its members, stopped short of anything that momentous, and produced few if any sweeping recommendations.

Now the climate change movement is highly energized by its growing outrage over Trump’s unwillingness to even pay lip service to their great cause, and what they view as Scott’s accommodating verbiage but no meaningful action to drive down Vermont’s CO2 emissions to what some would see as utterly fantastic levels — 26% below the 2005 level by 2025, and 80% below by 2050.

The climate change movement sees a Legislature overwhelmingly controlled by their political friends: the House 102-43 Democratic /Progressive (plus five independents) and the Senate 24-6. Its activists are tired of waiting for bold action. The governor hasn’t given them any, and they demand the Legislature give them drastic action now. Here’s their program:

First, put Vermont into the Transportation and Climate Initiative. This is a Northeastern multistate coalition that will set regionwide CO2 emission caps. Then it will drive emissions below those caps by making motorists pay increasingly higher prices for gasoline and on-road diesel fuels at the pump. Some of the $56 billion in TCI revenues (from 11 states, over 10 years) will be sent back to state governments to subsidize electric vehicles, public transportation, passenger rail, and bike paths, and to devise new land use controls to prevent people from living beyond cycling or walking distance from compact town centers.

Second, enact the Global Warming Solutions Act. This astonishing legislation would convert Vermont’s 2006 goals for reducing  CO2 emissions into the much stricter and mandated requirements noted above, create a “climate supergovernment” within state government, task state agencies to adopt all rules they find necessary to achieve the supergovernment’s (arbitrary) emission reductions – without a vote by elected legislators! – and authorize anybody to sue the state for not moving far enough and fast enough.

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Third, and less visible, inject a “defeat climate change” permit criterion into the emerging rewrite of Act 250, the 50-year-old planning and development act. This will likely require that every permit application will have to show that the development is carbon neutral, locates in a designated urban growth center (like Greater Burlington), makes maximum use of public transportation, and who knows what else.

Last week the social justice component of the state’s left-wing coalition jumped into the Act 250 issue, demanding that no permit be issued unless, in addition to meeting a host of CO2 emissions conditions, the applicant has made special provisions for the poor and minority groups that (supposedly) have suffered from previous development.

Our Legislature has always faced and dealt with conventional issues like taxation, regulation, labor law, highways, criminal justice, and education, health and welfare programs. Some have found the results unsatisfactory, but rarely are the Legislature and governor’s products life-threatening for the future of the state.

Now suppose the Legislature enacts these three measures, conceived and promoted by people who are, whether sincerely or cynically, obsessed with the menace of climate change. Suppose the people install a Progressive climate warrior as governor next year to carry out these measures.

What would Vermont’s economy look like in five years? Its attractiveness to small and large taxpaying businesses? Its employment opportunities? Its transportation system? Its ability to service its debt load, including its $4.5 billion pension fund liabilities?

True, in a green police state there will be more openings for climate regulators, lawyers, electric car servicers, bus drivers, insulation contractors, and solar panel installers. But beyond that?

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James Maroney

Readers should be certain to note that the fundamental definition of a conservative is someone who clings to the past and is slow to change. Even in the face of existential threats. John McClaughry is a conservative.

Tom Evslin

The Global Warming Solutions Act is all about allowing legislators to take credit for “ewnvironmental action” without having to vote on specific actions for which voters can hold them countable. First they “delegate” their authority to state agencies so that can later blame the bureaucrats for any pain even though the bureaucrats are doing what the legislators want them to do. Remember Act 46? “When we gave the Bd of Ed the power to mandate school district mergers, we didn’t realize they would force districts to merge.”

The law suits are another method for avoiding the pain of legislating. An “activist group” sues the State. the State agrees to a settlement in court. the settlement has the force of law without the inconvenience of legislating. Creates a backdoor way to raise the cost of heating and driving and give “incentives” to favored industries.

Neil A Gerdes

And yet another biased and uninformed essay from the Ethan Allen Institute. No solutions offered, only self righteous blathering full of dog whistle buzz phrases like “social justice warrior”. Why is social justice a bad thing? Because it doesn’t show a profit?

This bill may be far from perfect (what bill is?) but the ETI offers nothing but climate denial. Let the ostriches stay in nature, instead of writing editorials.

John Klar

“The government’s disinclination to do more than it does is explained, of course, by the government’s bought-and-paid-for servitude to interests that do not want it to do more. But there may also be a limit of another kind: a government that could do enough, assuming it had the will, would almost certainly be a government radically and unpleasantly different from the one prescribed by our Constitution. A government undertaking to protect all of nature that is now abused or threatened would have to take total control of the country. Police and bureaucrats — and opportunities for malfeasance — would be everywhere. To wish only for a public or political solution to the problem of conservation may be to wish for a solution as bad as the problem and still unable to solve it.”
Wendell Berry, “Conservation is Good Work,” from Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, p.38

John Klar

Mr. McClaughry does not offer a solution to environmental problems. He has not set out here to do that: he is combating government pollution, an entirely different animal. Those who support this legislation are blind to economic realities, and the proper limits of government. They seek to grant power to institutions over individuals, to enslave us in the name of the planet. It will not save us from ourselves, ever, as Wendell Berry explained in 1992: “The voices of the countryside, the voices appealing for respect for the land and respect for rural community, have simply not been heard in the centers of wealth, power and knowledge. The great, greedy, indifferent national and international economy is killing rural America, just as it is killing America’s cities — it is killing our country. Experience has shown that there is no use in appealing to this economy for mercy toward the earth or toward and human community. All true patriots must find ways of opposing it.”

Peter Yankowski

When one cannot rationally rebut a stated position with the facts, one is then forced to resort to name calling……….A case in point:

“And yet another biased and uninformed essay from the Ethan Allen Institute. No solutions offered, only self righteous blathering full of dog whistle buzz phrases like “social justice warrior”.

John Greenberg

A couple of points John McClaughry would prefer that you ignore.

1) “Traditionally, Democratic legislators have favored taxing and spending to benefit members of their electoral coalition….” Republicans, on the other hand, have no lobbyists, are pure as the driven snow, and think only of the public interest. This will, of course, come as news to the lobbying firms in Montpelier, the Chamber of Commerce, and of course, the Ethan Allen Institute.

2) “Now the climate change movement is highly energized by its growing outrage over Trump’s unwillingness to even pay lip service to their great cause…” Not a word about the millions of scientists worldwide who have been trying for decades to tell us what McClaughry’s pals in the fossil fuel industry have known all along: man-made emissions are causing the planet to warm over time, which will eventually threaten civilization as we know it. The planet will, of course, survive as it always does.

Jan van Eck

When you raise the costs of fuel, you decrease the money available for something else – including new house construction. Old, worn-out energy hog houses need to be torn down and replaced. When you “weatherize” an old house, you trap the moisture and CO2 from breathing inside. The moist air and CO2 is fertile for mold growth. A moldy house becomes a sick house, and the dwellers get seriously sick.

Nobody is talking about development and installation of air-to-air heat exchangers, so that outside fresh air will replace the stale, moist inside air. Without that, you are condemning old people and children to mold-induced illnesses. The old houses were heated by coal; the heat dried the air and the drafts took stale inside air outside. You did not develop mold, as you do with trapped air.

This is what people who want to weather-seal old houses don’t understand. What you need is funding credits to replace that old housing stock. Or you will have a chronically sick population.


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