Vt. House poised to vote on clean heat bill; Veto likely

Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 6:08 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont House Thursday is poised to vote on the Affordable Heat Act, a major priority for Democrats this session that aims to cut thermal emissions. But opponents of the clean heat bill -- including the governor -- say they continue to have concerns about how low-income and rural Vermonters will make the transition from fossil fuels, and who will pay for it.

On the eve of the vote on a sweeping thermal energy bill, House lawmakers on all sides of the issue are weighing the impact of their vote.

The Affordable Heat Act sets up a system to wean Vermonters off of fossil fuels over time and make investments in weatherization and heat pumps.

“Vermonters need a break and this isn’t going to give it to them,” said Minority Leader Rep. Pattie McCoy, R-Rutland, who is among Republicans urging the Democratic majority to slow down. She says the state is already making big investments in the fight against climate change. “The island of Puerto Rico emits more carbon than we do and somehow we have to be the leaders of the world in this? I think we’re doing a darn good job right now.”

The bill has the Statehouse split over how to meet the state’s climate goals as mandated by the Global Solutions Act, while also balancing affordability. Some are concerned the bill will raise heating oil costs and many households won’t be able to keep up.

But Johanna Miller with the Vermont Natural Resources Council says it’s those same Vermonters who are most affected by volatile fossil fuel prices.

Reporter Calvin Cutler: What would you say to a senior on fixed income up in Island Pond that heats with propane who is gravely concerned about this bill?

Johanna Miller: I am sympathetic and I’m gravely concerned, too, but I think the current status quo is not serving anyone very well.

Miller says taking Vermonters off a system they have no control over will help both them and the climate. “We can not afford no control over what we pay to stay warm,” she said.

But the upfront cost remains unknown. The bill tasks the Public Utility Commission to build the program, evaluate the cost and impact, and have lawmakers sign off on it in two years.

House debate and a preliminary vote on the bill is expected Thursday. If approved, it faces a likely veto from the governor.

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