Vermont Republicans stand opposed to the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), not because we are opposed to a clean and resilient environment, but because this is a bad bill being proposed at the worst possible time. As Governor Scott said at his Sept. 8 press conference, "There is a path forward," but allowing "any person" to sue the state and put Vermont taxpayers on the hook for both sides' attorneys' fees is not the way to go.
In case the Democrats and Progressives pushing for this bill haven't noticed, since its first iteration passed the House last February our state and our citizens have experienced a massive financial blow due to COVID-19. Tax revenues are down for fiscal year 2021 and look to be substantially down for FY2022.
However, the GWSA will require immediate new spending over these next two year of nearly $1 million. This money will go to fund three new bureaucrats, each getting six-figure compensation packages, the per-diem travel and meal costs for a new 23 person, unelected "Climate Counsel," and other expenses associated with merely setting up the program. Is this really how we want to prioritize scarce resources at the same time we are cutting other critical programs?
Once the GWSA moves into full gear there is no telling what the program will cost taxpayers, directly and indirectly, but it will be a whole lot of money.
The Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), which will be charged with implementing the plan to substantially reduce Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions, meeting specific, mandatory targets by 2025, 2030, and 2050, says it does not currently have the resources or personnel to carry out the mission. This means more money for more bureaucrats, and/or the likelihood of failure to meet those new mandatory goals.
Such failure creates even more financial liability for taxpayers as the GWSA allows "any person," be they a Vermonter or not, to sue the state if the emission reduction goals are not met or it looks like ANR is not on a path to do so. Even advocates of the bill admit that meeting these goals is unlikely, and therefore getting sued is very likely. In the event of such lawsuits, Vermont taxpayers will have to shoulder the legal costs of defending the state, and, adding insult to injury, potentially the cost of the suing party's attorney's fees as well. This could run into multiples of millions of dollars of expense for which Vermont taxpayers receive absolutely nothing of benefit whatsoever.
Finally, what will be the indirect costs to Vermonters pocketbooks and our economy in general when we are forced to comply with the countless inevitable regulations necessary to meet the greenhouse gas reduction mandates in the law? Supporters of the GWSA refuse to tell what these regulations might be or how much they might cost, which really should tell you all you need to know.
The only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to limit or eliminate activities that produce those emissions: such things as driving cars, trucks and tractors that use gasoline and diesel, or heating homes and businesses with oil, propane and natural gas. So, imagine everything you do over a year that currently creates greenhouse gas emissions, from driving to work, to mowing your lawn, to roasting a marshmallow over a campfire. Now, imagine some bureaucrat telling you that you are no longer allowed to do these things, and you must either replace those activities with a non-carbon emitting alternative or give them up altogether. And now, work out on the back of a napkin what that would personally cost you in terms of both money and quality of life. Do that, and you have some understanding of what the GWSA is and what it will do.
Passing the GWSA into law today, with all of the costs associated with it and at time when Vermonter's are struggling to make ends meet, our state coffers need time to rebuild, and our economy needs more freedom to grow not less, is the height of foolishness. The Democrats and Progressives who insist on moving forward with this bill are putting their pre-COVID, ideological agenda above common sense and our post-COVID reality. Vermont Republicans are ready to take the lead on real solutions to the challenges Vermonters are facing today.
Deb Billado is chairwoman of the Vermont Republican party. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.