Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Proposed Affordable Heat Act contains hidden tax

Vermont Senate bill S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, is an attempt to lower Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from heating  buildings in Vermont. A laudable objective.

However, the bill goes about this reduction in an extremely complicated and expensive way. It requires fossil fuel dealers to pay for their customers to invest in energy saving technologies, heat pumps, weatherization and other means, to reduce GHG. The only way fuel dealers can pay for this is to charge their customers more for the fuel purchased. Thus, increasing heating costs for Vermont families, businesses, and farms.

To be succinct about this; this is a sneaky tax on fossil fuel consumers. While the bill says nothing about a tax, there is only one way the fuel dealers can raise the money they will need to help their customers achieve GHG reductions. That is to charge their customers more. In essence a tax.

The name of the bill is very misleading, because the whole point of the bill is to increase the cost of heating by fossil fuels so as to force people, consumers, to switch to electricity, heat pumps etc.

The bill will require fossil fuel dealers to either establish a way to directly help their customers reduce fossil fuel use or set up a “Default Delivery Agent,” a third party organization of some kind to deliver the GHG reductions required to be delivered by the fossil fuel dealers who are required by the bill to do this work.

In essence the bill is requiring fossil fuel dealers to pay for their customers to reduce GHG emissions. This will reduce the amount of fuel needed for a customer to heat their home, meaning they’ll buy less from the fossil fuel dealer, meaning the dealer will have less income, less profit and eventually be put out of business. And that’s the point of the bill.

Now I’m not a fossil fuel dealer, but rather a rather large consumer of fuels. But I should think the fossil fuel dealers wouldn’t be really happy about putting themselves out of business. I am a Vermont family farmer selling farm products and not too in love with the idea of paying my customers to eat something else besides what I’m already selling them, should the Vermont Legislature think that a good idea. I suppose fossil fuel dealers might have a similar inkling.

To accomplish its objectives, S.5 sets up a complicated system to regulate all this and make it work, a large bureaucracy with a number of new state employee positions, costing, per the bill, $1.2 million in be beginning, and most likely more later. It also requires many existing state agencies to increase their workload without appropriating more funds for that purpose. A typical Vermont legislative trick promoted by those who want to hide the real costs of state government.

It seems to me that if we’re going to tax fossil fuels, let’s just tax them. Vermonters won’t particularly be happy with this, but it’s the honest way. We should support moving away from fossil fuels because we know climate change, caused by our high emissions of Green House Gases, is polluting the world and causing undue harm to our environment.

Just look at the climate change here in Vermont over the past 50 years I’ve been living here. Our growing season starts two weeks earlier and extends up to three weeks later than back in the 1970s, when we starting farming in Orwell. Things are changing rapidly. I sit here typing without a particle of snow on the ground. What more evidence do we need to know that our climate is going wacky? My new seeding of a hay field is now exposed to damaging cold extremes, as are my tulips.

We have in Vermont a number of organizations that are in the business of helping reduce heating costs of homes and buildings and thus reduce GHG emissions, such as Efficiency Vermont, financed by a tax on electricity that all Vermonters pay. Our farm pays more than $3,000 in Efficiency Vermont taxes yearly, but we’re willing to do so to do our part for the environment.

Let’s tax fossil fuels and put that money toward Efficiency Vermont, an existing and functioning organization, rather than requiring fossil fuel dealers to start something new, untested and inexperienced, that will be duplicating existing programs.

Last year we built an extremely efficient all-electric labor house on the farm, following to the letter Efficiency Vermont recommendations. We’re extremely pleased with the results. Plus we got a nice rebate from Efficiency Vermont. And the residents in that house are tickled pink.

It’s time to be honest about how we achieve our goals and ambitions in Vermont, to be proactive to reduce GHG emissions. Let’s do it in the least complicated, least bureaucratic way we can. I know there’s been a lot of hard work on S.5 over the past year, but now is the time to have meetings all over the state about how we reduce GHG emissions. Let’s hear from the public.

Paul Stone

Orwell

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