Legit problem, bad solution | Opinion
For a very long time, I considered myself an environmentalist. In elementary school, I helped our school develop its first Earth Day program. In high school, I helped organize what we called “March for Humanity,” to bring attention to human impacts on the world. In college, we battled acid rain defoliation of our mountain forests caused by coal-fired power plants in the Midwest. As President of the Rotary Club of Lyndonville, I spearheaded the effort to clean up approximately five miles of the Passumpsic River. This effort resulted in the disposal of 32 tons of metal car parts, nearly 500 tires and over 3,000 pounds of general waste, all directed to appropriate disposal/recycling facilities.
Each effort required the use of appropriate tools to accomplish the task. Cleaning up the river alone required a crane, a bucket loader, hand tools and many boats. Spent many hours with snorkeling gear diving underwater to hook a chain to many car and truck chassis, probably left there initially to protect the river banks after the flooding of 1927. The right tools helped achieve the goal. Bad tools don’t. In fact, sometimes they lead to bigger problems.
I should pause to note that I have long accepted the fact that humanity’s use of fossil fuels is problematic. Fifteen seconds with my nose near the end of the exhaust outlets of my motorcycle with the engine running makes me sick. Rapidly. Multiplied by the probable billions of motor vehicles running on the planet, it is not rocket science to understand that this is a hell of a lot of pollution released into the atmosphere. We have to settle this.
But Vermont’s small population can’t fix anything unless they use the right tools. This essay is about a bad tool — the Global Warming Solutions Act and its offspring: the Clean Heat Standard bill that Governor Phil Scott recently vetoed.
The Global Warming Solutions Act took the previous “targets” to reduce our carbon output and turned them into “mandates”. No legislator (to be honest) really believed that we would fulfill these mandates without drastic measures. To avoid facing controversial proposals, a bureaucracy was created to make carbon reduction suggestions, which insulated lawmakers from the direct wrath of Vermonters who would be most affected. To no one’s surprise, this bureaucracy suggested the imposition (in common parlance) of a heavy tax on fossil fuels. Every Vermonter using an internal combustion engine and/or fossil fuel-powered heating system would have to pay for it. The hope would be less consumption, and so supporters could claim that Vermont has done something about climate change.
The sad part of this wellness metric is that it can’t hit the mark. If the entire carbon output of Vermont’s tiny population disappeared tomorrow, it would have virtually no scientifically recordable impact on climate change. In exchange, the only thing we would accomplish would be to plunge a substantial portion of our population into financial hardship. This is called using the wrong tool. I’m not suggesting doing nothing. With Vermont’s limited resources, we should be using those resources to air-condition every home in Vermont to enable resilience. Resilience and conservation are two appropriate tools when it comes to fighting climate change.
As a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, I find it even sadder that the four Democratic candidates in this race recently faulted Governor Phil Scott for properly vetoing the Clean Heating Standard bill that would have imposed this heavy tax on fossil fuels. Their reluctance to consider the serious financial consequences caused by the use of this inappropriate tool is troubling. Vermonters cannot give up heating their homes or commuting to work. I cannot condone the use of this inappropriate tool – especially when imposing it on such a small population does next to nothing to achieve the goal. We must use our heads, as well as the appropriate tools, when it comes to tackling climate change. The Global Warming Solutions Act is not a solution.
Joe Benning is a Republican state senator from Caledonia County and a candidate for lieutenant governor. Opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington banner.