Guest editorial: Bill spells out accountability, sets Vt. on path to success

Despite overwhelming Senate and House support and the addition of a “check-back” mechanism per his request, Governor Scott vetoed S.5, the Affordable Heat Act earlier today. 

Recently, in just over a year, the price of fuel oil rose by $2 per gallon, and for the first time in Vermont’s official tracking history, the thermal sector, which includes residential, commercial, and industrial fuel use, produced the highest amount of climate pollution of any sector tracked in Vermont’s official greenhouse gas inventory. 

The reality is: for both people and the planet, business as usual doesn’t work. Unpredictable and volatile fossil-fuel prices have been and will continue to negatively impact Vermonters until a better path is forged. S.5 offers that path. 

Clean heat alternatives like heat pumps, weatherization, and advanced wood heating are cheaper and more sustainable. According to an expert independent analysis, by 2030, the clean heat services that could result from the Affordable Heat Act are estimated to reduce the overall heating costs of Vermonters by $2 billion, or an average of $7,500 per household that install clean heat alternatives.

Beyond the tremendous economic benefits, when it comes to climate action, the Agency of Natural Resources projects that a business-as-usual trajectory will bring Vermont only halfway to the 2025 legal obligations and a little more than one third of the way to the 2030 legal obligations. Without additional policy action, as recommended by the Vermont Climate Council and embodied in S.5, it will be impossible to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act. In fact, the Affordable Heat Act is the single largest pollution reduction strategy recommended by the Vermont Climate Council. 

At the Governor’s request, the Legislature inserted a “check-back” provision before the new, needed program outlined in S.5 could ever be implemented. The bill requires the Public Utility Commission to spend the next two years undertaking an economic analysis, stakeholder engagement and “writing the rules” to regulate the program. In January 2025, the studies and proposed rules will return to the Legislature for review. A bill will then be introduced and discussed based on the new information provided at that time. The program cannot begin without support from the House, Senate, and Governor in 2025.  

Should the bill advance to law, the new program will:   

• Engage more Vermonters — with a core focus on serving low- to moderate-income Vermonters — to choose to make the switch to clean heat, saving money on their fuel bills over time,  

• Assist fuel dealers during a time of rapid industry change, and   

• Help Vermont meet the carbon pollution requirements of 2030 and 2050.  

“There has been a tremendous amount of misinformation about this policy, which develops a clean heat credit program — but does not implement it. The bill very clearly states that the PUC cannot file final proposed rules ‘until specific authorization is enacted by the General Assembly,’” says Representative Gabrielle Stebbins. “This misrepresentation is a deep disservice to Vermonters. Not only is it scaring them; it runs counter to what voters expect and want from their elected officials.” 

“The Affordable Heat Act is an essential step forward to plan for and fully understand what it will take, what it will cost and how Vermonters can benefit from more local, cleaner, and more affordable heat,” says Senator Rebecca White. “It is the Climate Solutions Caucus leadership’s hope and expectation — as the two recent and decisive House and Senate votes have demonstrated — that the majority of policy makers will continue to support taking the next hard, important step forward toward a more equitable, affordable, cleaner heat future.”

Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins, Chittenden 13, and Sen. Rebecca White, Windsor

See Gov. Phil Scott’s take on S.5 here:Climate bill doesn’t make legislature accountable

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