Caution in the face of crisis

Gov. Phil Scott has taken something of a ribbing on The Twitter Machine for saying that when it comes to climate change, “I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel, I’m not looking to come out with something dramatic,”

Because heaven forfend we should respond to a crisis with “something dramatic.” I mean, if your house is on fire, do you really want the fire department waking up the neighborhood with their sirens and flashers? Do you want firefighters trampling all over your lawn?

Scott’s comment was in a truly dispiriting article by VTDigger’s Elizabeth Gribkoff about how state leaders have given up on meeting Vermont’s near-term climate goals, including a 2007 law which mandates a 50% reduction (from 1992 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2028 and a goal of weatherizing 80,000 Vermont homes by, ahem, next year. (Of course, the legislature had the foresight to impose no penalties for breaking the GHG law, so no harm, no foul, right?)

More on Our Cautious Governor in a moment. But first I’d like to point out that legislative leadership doesn’t look any better. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, The State’s Most Conservative Progressive, talked of “a pretty serious conceptual shift” that kinda-sorta makes those goals… irrelevant?

As Ashe put it, “And so we might think about things differently today than we did when those particular goals were made in terms of timing and strategies.”

Umm, okay. For her part, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson meets the challenge with a profusion of past participles: “In order to have met that goal, we needed to have been keeping closer track of it all along the way,” said Johnson.

I get it. We’re gonna bullshit our way out of the crisis.

In the meantime, I look forward to the passage of legislation officially removing our climate goals from the law. It’d be honest, if nothing else.

Speaking of legislation, Johnson sounds approximately one degree above lukewarm about the Global Warming Solutions Act, which got nowhere in the 2019 session but may gain some traction in 2020. Johnson promises to give it a look, anyway, but Ashe is expressing the kind of caution that portends a skillful garroting of the bill — when or, most likely if, the House were to actually pass it. “I’m open-minded to it,” said Ashe, in the language commonly reserved for progressive policies that he wants nothing to do with.

Such a bill would constitute the beginning of a serious effort to confront the climate crisis, but very few in the legislature have had the stomach for it. Do you think that situation will somehow improve in an election year?

In an election year when Democrats can expect to win big (except for the governorship) as long as they don’t rock the boat too much?

Didn’t think so.

But let’s get back to Governor Nothing Dramatic. His position belies his acknowledgement of the climate crisis, but is entirely consistent with his political outlook: Grim utterances about The Challenges We Face, and little or no action in response.

I’ve said this before, but Scott does this all the time. Whether it’s our demographic and workforce challenges, public sector pensions, rising education costs, the state’s debt and budget issues, he’s constantly sounding the alarm — and then offering solutions that are, at best, incremental. (At worst, irrelevant, such as the endlessly-touted remote worker grant program.)

Indeed, if I were running a Democratic gubernatorial campaign, I’d make Scott’s Do-Nothingism the focus of my attacks. The Dems have been trying for years to paint the governor as a conservative in moderate’s clothing, and it just doesn’t work. I offer no guarantees that my preferred strategy would actually win, but at least it’s based in plausible reality. If Vermonters feel as though serious issues are not being tackled, AND if a Democratic candidate can present an attractive action plan, then Scott might be vulnerable.

Of course, the fact that top lawmakers’ positions on climate change are effectively indistinguishable from Scott’s doesn’t make the latter task any easier.


1 thought on “Caution in the face of crisis

  1. walter carpenter

    “Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, The State’s Most Conservative Progressive”

    Good point and way to phrase it.


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