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Vermont House passes controversial Affordable Heat Act

Vermont Statehouse  (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse (file)

Late last week the Vermont House passed the Affordable Heat Act, sent to the Senate for reconciliation. The bill’s intent is to move away from fossil fuels and lower energy costs. But opponents say its provisions are anything but affordable.

The bill's text says its intent is to affordably meet the “mandated greenhouse gas reductions for the thermal sector through efficiency, weatherization measures, electrification and decarbonization.”

The bill is an outgrowth of Vermont’s 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires greenhouse gas pollution be reduced 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Emissions must be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Committee on Environment and Energy Vice Chair Dover Independent Laura Sibilia said the bill establishes a Clean Heat Standard for the thermal heating sector and the Public Utility Commission would then develop the regulations.

“We are voting to create the Clean Heat Standard in statute. To have the Public Utility Commission develop the marketplace and the rules for implementing a Clean Heat Standard through a public process utilizing technical and equity experts. And lastly, to provide the 2025 legislature and governor with rules to implement the Clean Heat Standard and then change, pass or repeal the provisions of S.5.”

A number of legislators noted that their constituents overwhelmingly oppose the bill. Castleton Republican Jarrod Sammis says the bill is vague and places implementation responsibility on future legislators.

“People are not comfortable with this and it's not a matter of change. It's a matter of poor legislation. And in addition to that I'm going to call this bill exactly what it is: it is a carbon tax. It is going to increase the cost of living for Vermonters of all economic backgrounds. And we're domestically creating another crisis that doesn't need to happen. And I understand we want to try and address climate change. I get that. But this is the wrong way to do it. We import our electricity from out of state. A good portion of that electricity is made with fossil fuels. So I would encourage my peers to think about that when they're talking about increasing the rates of electricity. Because right now, we are importing it from non-sustainable carbon producing sources.”

Orwell Democrat Joseph Andriano has a number of technical misgivings but says he’s mainly concerned that his constituents oppose it.

“The opposition has transcended political lines. It's transcended age. It's transcended economic status and has represented a true cross section of my district. This bill may be well intentioned, I believe it is well intentioned, but I believe it's wrong for the Addison Rutland district, as do my constituents, and likely detrimental to the many rural communities across Vermont where people are struggling to make ends meet. And those that want me to vote yes even told me I want you to vote yes for symbolic reasons to show that we're doing something. That was their reason, not for the underlying policy reasons.”

Manchester Democrat Kathleen James noted that the transition from fossil fuels is well under way and will accelerate.

“The question that we need to resolve is how are we going to make sure that the most impacted and vulnerable Vermonters are not left behind in that transition. We’ve heard a lot of questions and concerns about the bill raised in our debate, which has been a great debate I think. And I would propose that this bill and the two-year deliberative process of study and checkback and public engagement that we hope to put into place answers those very questions. We need to move Vermont forward on climate. This is the way to do it.”

The bill passed by a voice vote and returns to the Senate to consider any changes.

House debate 4/20/23:

House debate 4/21/23:

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