Phil Scott Wants to Have His Cake and Veto It Too

Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of the Affordable Heat Act followed a familiar pattern for the most veto-happy governor in Vermont history. Rather than taking a conservative stance on policy, he focused on a flimsy process-oriented argument. It’s a tactic that allows him to claim the mantle of moderation even as he makes himself an obstacle to progressive ideas.

Just ask him, he’ll tell you he’s all for fighting climate change — but not this way.

The problem is, if we restricted ourselves to climate policies with the Phil Scott Seal of Approval, we’d miss our legally mandated targets for emissions reduc —

— oh wait, we are missing our legally mandated targets for emissions reductions!

Less than a week ago, Scott’s own Agency of Natural Resources issued its latest report and forecast on greenhouse gas emissions, which “predicts that Vermont will get halfway to its 2025 requirements and slightly less than halfway to its 2030 requirements.”

But that’s no big deal for an administration that thinks it’d be just fine to miss the 2025 and 2030 requirements as long as we hit the big one in 2050. ANR Secretary Julie Moore has said so herself. And the governor has expressed the same sentiment.

Which puts the administration at odds with, ahem, state law. The Global Warming Solutions Act, which became law over Scott’s veto, sets targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions in the years 2025, 2030 and 2050, and leaves the state open to lawsuit if a target is missed. And if a lawsuit were successful, the state could be put under court order to reduce emissions by any means necessary.

If one were of a mind to question the role of coincidence in life, that might lead one to think that Scott is planning to be out the door by 2026 so he wouldn’t have to face the consequences of legal action from those busybodies at the Conservation Law Fund or some such.

Anyway. The governor and his minions are quick to boast of the admin’s record investments in fighting climate change — but like all his other “record investments,” the money comes from federal Covid relief funds. He is far less forthcoming with precious silver from the state’s own coffers. It’s another reason that pandemic thing has worked out rather nicely for the governor, speaking purely in financial terms.

In his veto message, Scott did not mention the potential rise in fuel costs from the Affordable Heat Act. That was somewhat curious, since the Act’s vociferous critics on the right have claimed a potential 70-cents-per-gallon increase — a figure that came from the administration itself. And there lies a tale that should not be forgotten.

In late January, Julie Moore made a remarkable appearance before the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The subject was, surprise surprise, the Affordable Heat Act and the potential consequences thereof. Her testimony was remarkable because she openly invited skepticism on the part of her audience. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

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 “perfectly reasonable” for committee members to be “offended” by her guesstimates.

Moore’s potentially offensive and possibly wildly inaccurate “back-of-the-envelope math” is where that 70 cents per gallon estimate comes from. Nobody who cites it as proof positive of the Act’s inimical effects ever mentions that in her written testimony, Moore hedged her figgerin’ something fierce.

That truckload of caveats has been transmuted, thanks to the magic of political rhetoric, into a dire certainty of crushing cost increases should the Act become law.

Also unmentioned is that Moore presented a chart of costs and benefits that showed potential — emphasis on potential — cost hikes in the short term, dwarfed by tremendous cost savings in the longer term. So, at worst, it’s possible that the Act could increase fuel prices by some amount, but the overall savings will be far greater. Plus, you know, fighting global warming and stuff.

So perhaps it’s nothing more than prudence that kept Scott from mentioning costs in his veto message, since Moore’s cost estimates are questionable at best and grossly misleading in any case. Or maybe he kept money out of it because he wanted to position himself as a Defender of the Earth even as he vetoed yet another piece of climate legislation.

Postscript. According to the inimitable Guy Page, the House plans to hold its veto override vote this week and the Senate seems likely to follow suit. That seems to be a definite shift in the timetable; the Legislature had set aside three days in late June for all override attempts. The change seems to indicate a very high degree of certainty that Scott’s veto is going down in flames. It could also mean that legislative leaders don’t want their members subjected to a month-plus of heavy political pressure from conservative precincts.

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3 thoughts on “Phil Scott Wants to Have His Cake and Veto It Too

  1. Joe patrissi

    This Governor continues to be a big disappointment. His plan for the homeless doesn’t exist. Corrections has become a wasteland for dead inmates..Mental capacity is maxed out. Health care is fragmented. There’ is no secure faculty for violent juveniles. Protective services isn’t protective. On and in. To boot, this governor tried to shove Medicare Advantage down the throats of retirees against their will. So much for choice and freedom. We need a leader of substance not a mouthpiece.

    Reply
  2. Irene Wrenner

    The Senate vote to override is Tuesday at 10 am.

    Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS

    Reply
  3. P.

    Passive-aggressive Scatt sez wot?
    Serious, I do not understand his popularity, nor what his administration accomplish on a day to day basis.
    I wish a reporter with a solid background in government finance would go through the records. This last week, I seen this administration claim a possible budget surplus of $200 million, but Vermont public schools can’t afford x,y, or z,, we can’t afford the $20 million to transition the hotel voucher program (which I also saw a very different estimate of $ 9 million) .and I remember a number of other voodoo economic instances. So what is the truth of Vermont state finance. Are the books being cooked or just mismanaged?..

    Reply

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