Vermont Becomes Latest Blue State to Reject Natural Gas Building Restrictions

Last week, Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) vetoed the state’s Clean Heat Standard Bill, due to lack of financial details The bill would have disincentivized the use of natural gas in the state’s buildings and industries.

The governor also called for the Public Utilities Commission to study and report the cost and economic impact of a clean heat standard. In his statement, Gov. Scott said:

“I have clearly, repeatedly, and respectfully asked the Legislature to include language that would require the policy and costs to come back to the General Assembly in bill form so it could be transparently debated with all the details before any potential burden is imposed,” Scott wrote to lawmakers. “This is how lawmaking and governing is supposed to work and what Vermonters expect, deserve and have a right to receive.”

Following the decision, an effort to override the progressive governor’s veto failed in the Vermont House.

Designed from the state’s Climate Action Plan, the Clean Heat Standard was promoted as a means to reduce emissions in the state’s building and industrial sectors. The bill would have directed the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to design a credit-based marketplace, where companies that import fossil fuels used for heat would have to buy or earn a certain number of credits every year, based on how much their products emit. Any person or business would be able to create credits by doing things that help people reduce emissions in their homes and businesses.

Essentially, the goal is to push consumers away from fossil fuels and towards options such as electrification to reduce emissions. But the bill lacked an economic analysis, and the push could increase the energy bills of the 60 percent of Vermont households that rely on fuel oil, kerosene, or propane for space heating.

Last winter, Vermont’s Congressional Delegation secured an additional $28 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to “ensure families have a warm home this winter,” said Gov. Scott. The funding was necessary to cover the higher energy costs seen during the winter and the more than 39,000 Vermont households that would need assistance.

The plan would incentivize technologies like heat pumps, remove any possibility to expand natural gas access to residents, and slowly remove Efficiency Vermont’s rebates for other technologies. The Energy Information Administration reports that burning natural gas for energy results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) than burning coal or petroleum products to produce an equal amount of energy.

Gov. Scott’s veto reflects the need for thoughtful policymaking that considers not only the health and wellbeing of Vermonters, but is mindful to the economic consequences of energy policy decisions especially in this economic downturn. As the deadline for emission-reduction targets triggered by Vermont’s  Global Warming Solutions Act approaches, Vermont must set a plan in motion to reach their climate goals. Without one, they face the risk of potential legal action.

Legislators must factor cost into any plan to reduce emissions. And while Gov. Scott said that the lack of financial information is an “easy fix,” his decision to reject the bill – and the legislature’s inability to override his veto – reinforces that these decisions cannot continue to be pushed onto consumers without considering potential increases to energy prices, jobs, and the overall economy of Vermont. Vermonters cannot afford such short-sighted policy decisions from Montpelier.

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