Climate “Action” Commission Misses the Mark

In July 2017, Gov. Phil Scott established the Vermont Climate Action Commission, tasked with creating a plan for Vermont to meet our climate and energy commitments. The commission recently released its final report and, unfortunately, it’s a 119-page disappointment. The report fails for three reasons.

First, Gov. Scott corrupted the process by allowing politics to trump policy, 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.”

That does not mean that it was not made up of fine people. If someone truly wanted to come up with a plan to get Vermont to its climate and energy commitments however, this is not the commission that would be put together. Four members were Scott administration political appointees, and at least four more were Scott donors. Several were representatives of industries that have been at best disinterested in climate action, and at worst fought it tooth and nail.

Perhaps worse, mid-way through the public listening tour last fall – when putting price on carbon pollution was far-and-away the most popular public recommendation – the governor tweeted his opposition to the concept, making clear he had no interest in public input that disagreed with his views.

To their credit, the commission ignored his tweet and voted 20-1 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 wrote that such a study should only be done nationally, with the federal government – in other words, the Trump administration should study what’s good for Vermont.

Then, when the final draft report was released, the recommendations were seemingly a little too honest. 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 that language was scrubbed from the final document.

Second, the report isn’t a plan. 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.”

A plan would describe a path to achieve those goals. This report does not – as even the Scott administration itself admits. 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.’”

But figuring out how to “get there” was precisely the point of this whole exercise. Right?

While many of the report’s ideas are worth pursuing, the sum of the listed recommendations is objectively not up to the task. A price on carbon pollution, a renewable energy standard requiring 100 percent renewable electricity, reopening Vermont to wind power, massive new investments in efficiency and transportation alternatives – those are the kinds of recommendations that would be included in a plan to actually hit Vermont’s climate commitments.

Third, unless Gov. Scott does a 180 on climate, this report is meaningless. 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 again and again.

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. You just won’t find many of those in Phil Scott’s climate action “plan.”