Vt. lawmakers plan to reintroduce ‘clean heat’ bill
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A new session of the Vermont Legislature kicks off Wednesday, and tackling climate change is expected to be a top priority for Democratic leaders. About a third of carbon emissions in our region come from heating our homes. Democrats last year failed to override Governor Phil Scott’s veto of a thermal energy bill targetting fossil fuels. Now, with a new larger majority, lawmakers plan to bring the measure back.
Call it round two for a bill that seeks to transition home heating away from fossil fuels. Last year’s “Clean Heat Standard” measure will be re-introduced in the first week of the session as the Affordable Heat Act. The bill would let businesses, fuel dealers, and others earn so-called clean heat credits for helping customers weatherize their homes or switch to eco-friendly heating sources like cold air heat pumps. It would then essentially increase prices for fuel dealers and their customers over time if they continue to heat with fossil fuels including propane, kerosene, and heating oil.
But this time around, lawmakers also plan to pair the bill with other incentives. “Everyone knows, for example, that a weatherized home costs less to operate. The question is always, ‘Can I make that investment today and how will it take for those energy savings to pay me back?’” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison County.
But some opponents of the measure worry about the cost of transitioning to cleaner energy. David Flemming with the Ethan Allen Institute, a conservative think tank, says smaller fuel dealers may be put out of business, driving up costs for rural Vermonters. “The larger fuel dealers may have to come in and increase their prices in order to cover everyone for these fossil fuels and this isn’t really a feasible solution,” he said.
Bray and other sponsors say the cost of inaction is worse in the long run. “Rural Vermonters can’t afford to stay in the current system, so what we need to do is find an affordable path out of the swamp we are in right now,” he said.
Governor Phil Scott successfully vetoed a similar bill last year, saying it gave too much power to the Public Utility Commission and didn’t quantify the cost on low and middle-income Vermonters. Lawmakers failed to override the veto by a single vote.
Over the summer, lawmakers and the Vermont Climate Council began digging into the governor’s concerns by looking for a contractor to quantify how much a clean heat standard would cost and setting up an emissions reporting program to understand the impact on fuel dealers and their customers. “So that we have that data at the same time we have the analysis that we’re doing through the contract so we can stand up the policy that matches those entities in the next legislative session,” explained the council’s Jane Lazorchak.
Vermont is under a 2025 deadline to meet some of the first legal obligations outlined in the Global Warming Solutions Act
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Representative Jil Krowinski, D-Burlington, is slated to be sworn in Wednesday again as speaker of the house. The Democrat says she plans to carry forward legislation on paid family leave, universal child care, and more support for housing.
There are 50 new House members, including eight new committee chairs. Krowinski says it will take a few weeks to get everyone up to speed but that she’s confident it will be a productive session.
“It’s hard losing so much institutional knowledge but we are gaining a new group of members who care deeply about this state and want to and will do the hard work to catch up and pass legislation that helps Vermonters in all 14 counties,” she said.
Wednesday’s opening gavel will mark the first in-person start since 2020. Floor proceedings and committee meetings will be live-streamed live on YouTube for Vermonters to watch.
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