By Rob Roper
The last thing the Vermont House of Representatives did before leaving town was pass H.R. 15, a resolution “strongly opposing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement … and recognizing Governor Phil Scott’s enrolling Vermont in the U.S. Climate Alliance.” It passed, 105-31. Hey, look at us! We love the environment, unlike those knuckledraggers in D.C.! This is, of course, a total crock.
The U.S. Climate Alliance, to which Governor Scott pledged allegiance, is a group of states “committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement,” and accepting “the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation.”
To be clear: this is a non-binding pledge to adhere to a non-binding agreement that, from the United States’ perspective, no longer exists. A farce upon a farce. But we Vermonters really mean it, right? Because we care.
Well, one of the responsibilities our legislators assumed, if they were serious, is a commitment of $3 billion to the international Green Climate Fund. H.R. 15 references this specifically in its fifth “whereas” clause. Vermont’s share of this would be an estimated $20 million (about $32 per person or $128 for a family of four). So, how do the supporters of this resolution and the governor intend to pay for this thing they have resolved to do?
Answer: they don’t.
Nobody’s going to make any payment to the Green Climate Fund. In fact, the one action our legislators took before passing the resolution was to remove the word “funding” from the resolved section. So, they are resolved to do everything the Paris Agreement set out to do … except those things we would have to pay for. Which is, pretty much, all of them. Breathe easy, taxpayers, you’re off the hook.
Beyond the financial commitment, our representatives resolved to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, less than a decade away.
This is a similar challenge to Vermont’s Act 168 of 2006, which bound us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (principally carbon dioxide) to 25 percent below 1990 levels by January 1, 2012. Consider that Vermont — for all the weatherization projects, efficiency mandates, renewable energy subsidies, and developing our ridgelines with industrial windmills, etc. — did not come close to meeting this self-imposed 2012 milestone.
According to the state’s report, Vermont’s 1990 greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 8.11 million metric tons (mmt), 9.03 mmt in 2006, and 8.27 mmt in 2012 — nowhere near the 6.1 million metric ton target. We can conclude from this that meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement and H.R. 15 will require significant measures and sacrifices far beyond what we have been doing and are doing as a state today.
What are those measures and sacrifices? A carbon tax? The governor (to his credit and good sense) has pledged to veto that. More industrial ridgeline wind development? Vermonters oppose it vehemently wherever it pops up. More tax or ratepayer subsidies for solar projects? That would require “funding.” So, what exactly is it that you resolved to do differently?
Be honest: nothing.
After all, the Legislature just proudly passed a budget with no new taxes or fees. And they should be proud. It was a tremendous accomplishment on all sides and a good first step toward lowering the cost of living and doing business in Vermont. This was the Governor’s theme, pledge, and goal for the legislative session. Mission accomplished! So why, in your next breath after passing that budget, would you resolve to comply with an agreement that would require massive taxes, fees, and costly regulations?
Sadly, this vote will undoubtedly appear in 2018 campaign literature. Those who voted for this farce upon a farce will use it as a way to pat themselves on the back before their constituents. Those who were honest enough to vote against what is so obviously a steaming pile of insincere political theater will be attacked — unfairly — for “insufficient caring” about the planet.
Don’t fall for it.
Before the next election there will be another legislative session and time for those who voted for H.R.15 to put our money where their mouths are. Show us your real plan for meeting our obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement. Tell us what taxes you will raise and what regulations you will enforce and put that to a vote. I’m betting that bill, should it ever be allowed to see the light of day, won’t find 105 supporters (in the state, let alone the Legislature) or the governor’s endorsement, and it shouldn’t. In an honest world, neither should have H.R. 15.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.