Climate “Action” Commission Misses the Mark

In July 2017, Governor Phil Scott established the Vermont Climate Action Commission, tasked with creating an actionable plan for helping Vermont meet our climate and energy commitments. The commission recently released its final report, and unsurprisingly — it’s a 119 page disappointment. The report fails for three reasons:

First, Governor Scott corrupted the process by allowing politics to trump policy and stacking the commission with industry representatives and Administration officials. Seven Days described the commission as “a bloated, 21-member panel representing just about every interest group in Vermont except for blacksmiths and barbers. There’s only one — count ’em, one — environmental advocate on board.”

Further, mid-way through the public listening tour last fall – when funding solutions with a price on carbon pollution was far-and-away the most popular recommendation to the commissioners (not to mention clearly among the best ways to make progress on climate in our dramatically warming world) – the governor tweeted his opposition to the concept. He thereby instructed his commission to disregard public input and the advice of nearly every economist who has studied how to efficiently and effectively reduce pollution while maintaining a robust economy.

(As Donald Trump seems to believe that it’s not obstructing justice if it’s done by tweet, so too does Vermont’s chief executive seem to think he’s not influencing the output of what should be an independent commission if he does it in less than 140 characters.)

To their credit, the commission ignored his tweet and voted 20-to-1 to recommend that the state commission an independent, nonpartisan study of the costs and benefits of economy-wide approaches like carbon pricing to Vermont. CEOs representing Vermont businesses with over $1 billion in annual revenues urged him to get this information and make an informed decision on how to move forward.

Gov. Scott, however, rejected his own commission’s recommendation and that of the CEOs, and wrote that such as study should only be done in collaboration with the federal government – in other words, the Trump administration should be the arbiter of what’s good for Vermont.

Then, when the final draft report was released, the recommendations were seemingly a little too honest for Gov. Scott’s comfort.  For example, the draft report correctly identified the barrier to electric vehicle incentives for low, middle income and rural Vermonters as, “new revenues or pricing systems are not consistent with the Administration’s priorities.” That’s true – Gov. Scott’s insistence on decreasing, not increasing, funding for efficiency and clean energy is clearly a barrier to climate action in Vermont – but in the end the Scott appointees on the commission scrubbed that language from the final document.

Second, the report isn’t a plan. As John Walters puts it in Seven Days, “lengthy and amorphous … just a list of 53 separate, unranked recommendations.” Gov. Scott’s executive order creating the commission called for “an action plan aimed at reaching the State’s renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals while driving economic growth, setting Vermonters on a path to affordability, and ensuring effective energy transition options exist for all Vermonters.”

While many of the individual ideas within the plan are worth pursuing, the whole of the report is less than the sum of its parts. Most of the report is a warmed over recitation of solutions that have been on the table – and we have known we should be pursuing – for years.

And it isn’t just the environmental community that is underwhelmed. In the words of commission co-chair Peter Walke, Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, “I wouldn’t use this as the basis to say, ‘if we did all these things we would get there.’”

If, when announcing the product of a year-long government-financed effort, the best the Scott administration can do is give their own report an “Incomplete” grade, it seems that their work product leaves something to be desired.

Third, unless Gov. Scott does a 180 on climate, this report is meaningless. If past is prologue, he will likely use the report as a rhetorical shield during the campaign this fall, then put it on the shelf when it is time to actually lead. For, when given the opportunity in his two years as chief executive, Gov. Scott has acted against the best interest of the climate and a 21st century economy at almost every turn.

We have seen this play out when he joined the U.S. Climate Alliance (good), then proceeded to kill the wind industry in Vermont, oversaw a huge drop in solar installations and employment, and proposed cutting funds for Efficiency Vermont and the elimination of the Clean Energy Development Fund (all bad).

On climate, Phil Scott says one thing, then does another. In doing so, he’s leaving job-creating opportunities on the table and Vermonters vulnerable to the instability of imported fossil fuels and a dramatically overheating planet.

There’s another way – and real solutions that set the trajectory for long term affordability and planetary stability. Countries and regions around the world are reducing pollution and strengthening their economies, taking actions we can and should follow. You just won’t find many of those in Phil Scott’s climate action “plan.”

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