Some people in the Scott administration strike me as experts in their field who don’t necessary buy official policy, but stick it out in hopes of influencing said policy. Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore is at the top of that list, as is Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. Sometimes when Moore is shilling the company line she seems less than 100% behind what she’s saying.
But inviting lawmakers to discount her testimony? That’s a new one.
Moore appeared on January 26 before the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The topic was S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, previously d/b/a the Clean Heat Standard. Moore was there to deliver dire news about the short-term costs of the Act and the lack of in-depth research on its consequences.
She acknowledged that her “back-of-the-envelope math” could “easily be off by a factor of two here.” She even said it would be “pefectly reasonable” for committee members to be “offended” by her guesstimates. VTDigger reported these remarks but failed to express how unusual, if not downright weird, it is for a state official to cast such doubt on their own testimony.
Mind you, these caveats weren’t off-the-cuff. They were part of her written testimony. Here’s the passage in full.
The administration is openly opposed to S.5 and, indeed, to any strong steps against climate change. In that context, one would suspect that administration officials would, if anything, exaggerate the negative impacts of S.5. And Moore openly courted that kind of suspicion.
The funny thing is, if you think about her testimony, it’s not really all that bad.
In the long run, S.5 would save Vermonters an estimated $6.4 billion, but the costs are front-loaded. Moore put the short-term additional cost at $1.2 billion for state programs and added that heating fuel prices could rise by 70 cents a gallon.
Which seems scary. But first, Moore herself invites skepticism about her accuracy. And second, take a look at this chart, provided by Moore to the committee.
See that red-and-white sliver? That’s the short-term cost as estimated by Moore. That’s not very large compared to the whole picture. This chart shows that the break-even point is less than a decade away, and that the long-term rewards are much larger than the short-term impacts. We can find ways to manage the immediate costs. Plus, we’d be helping to save the planet if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s an investment that strikes me as totally worthwhile.
And that’s assuming the picture is as gloomy as Moore paints it.
Okay, so why did Moore come out with a back-of-the-envelope estimate instead of something more fundamentally sound? The explanation begins with the administration’s general opposition to strong climate action. Moore and Gov. Scott have both made it clear that they don’t care if we hit our 2025 and 2030 emissions targets. It’s in their interest to make the process seem as costly and complicated as possible,
Thus, Moore’s closing paragraph from above: “I encourage you to see this as making the case for the time and resources needed for modeling and analysis to generate better numbers.”
In other words, the administration is seeking paralysis by analysis. See also: Scott’s proposal to spend $900,000 for his officials to study things that the state Climate Council is already studying.
Study, study, study. As long as we need more study, we shouldn’t do anything.
Moore’s estimate is one more brick in the administration’s wall of doubt about climate action. Stir up the sediment, muddy the waters, kick the can down the road.
But Moore and her boss are exaggerating the costs and the risks. There are very smart people in the Legislature and the Climate Council who are working through all this stuff. They can devise good plans. And they can revisit those plans if necessary.
The administration would let perfect be the enemy of good. That’s not the best way to tackle climate change.
Finally, a word about the quality of remote access for legislative committee hearings. It’s not good. This particular committee has a single camera posted above and behind the witness chair. (See the screenshot atop this column.) The audio quality is also poor. And when a witness has a PowerPoint type presentation, the slides occupy the whole of the screen. When that’s the case, as it was for much of Moore’s testimony, it’s almost impossible to tell who’s talking.
It’s a work in progress. I get it. But in terms of usable access to the work of the Legislature, we’ve taken a big step back from the days of Zoom meetings. Then, at least, you stood a good chance of seeing who’s talking and understanding what they have to say. Now, it’s a crapshoot at best.
I know (not well) and respect (very much) Secretary Moore. I have to believe it pained her greatly to deliver a message with which, I suspect, she fundamentally disagrees. Her back-of-the-envelope calculations seem quite obviously to have been intended, as you describe, to obfuscate the long-term net benefits that the AHA will yield Vermonters. That was unfortunate, but I’m optimistic that the Committee won’t be taken in by it. The Affordable Heat Act (“clean heat standard”) is the creation of a multi-year process that fed into the Climate Counsel’s own process and which became one of the Council’s key recommendations to the governor and legislature for meeting the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act. The analysis and modeling behind it have, in fact, been exhaustive. So much so that it has drawn the keen interest of at least two other states (MA and MD). Vermont once again is punching above its weight.
Excellent comment Mr Weston.
So why is Governor Scott so against this? Other than the usual “business is my most important voting block”. And he is still a republican…