Commentary: The Worst Democracy-Shredding Bill in Fifty Years (February, 2020)

By John McClaughry

Over the past fifty years I have seen a lot of bills introduced into the Vermont legislature. Of all the bills over all those years, the absolute worst was just introduced in the House, with 87 co-sponsors (all Democratic and Progressive). It’s titled the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA, H.688).

The Climate Action Coalition believes that the planet faces a “climate emergency” due to human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. Every year for the past five years its dozens of lobbyists have labored to persuade the legislators to take bold and far-reaching steps to drive down those emissions.

The centerpiece of those efforts has been a carbon tax. The argument has three components. First, we must drive down the use of carbon-based fuels by Vermonters using heating oil, natural gas, gasoline, diesel and propane.

Second, taxation is the best means for accomplishing “decarbonization” because it will make those fuels more expensive. As those fuels become more unaffordable to more and more people and businesses, they will improve their fuel use efficiency, switch to some other energy source, or make lifestyle changes.

Third, the revenues from the increasingly punitive carbon tax can be used by the State to subsidize climate-friendly practices, such as home weatherization, heat pumps, public buses, commuter rail, and electric vehicles.

The net effect of this program would be the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from people and businesses (plus schools, hospitals and governments) that use heating oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas and propane, to the favored people who weatherize their homes, use public transportation, drive electric vehicles and install solar panels.

Will all this help defeat the “climate emergency”? Not detectably, of course, but it would be a virtue signal to the rest of the world: “Brave Little Vermont! We have the courage to beggar our own people to battle the Menace of Climate Change!”

For five years, however, the Climate Action advocates have failed to find the votes, even in this Green-friendly legislature, to enact even the beginning stages of a carbon tax. So here comes their Plan B: The Global Warming Solutions Act.

Fourteen years ago the legislature, with little dissent, adopted goals for reducing emissions from burning carbon-based fuels. But far from reducing emissions below the 1990 baseline, Vermont’s emissions are now 16 percent above that baseline. Emergency!

Since there aren’t enough  votes for a carbon tax, the GWSA would replace the 2006 “goals” with much stricter “mandatory requirements”;  create a 21-member climate action super-government  (the Climate Council, controlled by legislative leaders); task it with developing a sweeping Plan to regulate anything and everything that might reduce CO2 emissions; implement the Plan with state agency rules backed by penalties; authorize the Conservation Law Foundation to bring suits to get judges to order the rule-making agencies to move faster and further to save the planet  from the “climate emergency”; and use tax dollars to pay the plaintiff’s legal costs if it “substantially prevails” in a courtroom.

Two things are perfectly clear here. The bureaucrats can’t levy a carbon tax, but the scope of rules they may find essential to defeating “climate change” is unlimited. After all, this is an “emergency”!

And most importantly – read this carefully – no legislator will ever vote on wave after wave of sweeping rules that will affect the lives of every Vermonter.

The Global Warming Solutions Act would simply bestow on state bureaucrats the power to force Vermonters to submit to an endless list of expensive and invasive rules to comply with the arbitrary emissions goals, and eliminate any shred of our elected representatives’ accountability for those actions.

Its passage would be a giant step toward unaccountable rule by arbitrary decree that would have astonished and alarmed two hundred years of Vermont governors and legislators, faithful to our constitution’s requirement that our government must always, in a legal way, remain accountable to the people.

Add to the utter lack of accountability, and the cost of the army of regulators and enforcers needed to carry out The Plan, and the invitation to CLF and others to sue the State to force quicker and more far-reaching oppression (as CLF did under a similar statute in Massachusetts), and you have a Green Police State, financed by the victims.

That’s why I label the GWSA the worst piece of legislation I have seen in fifty years. It’s not just foolish, and costly, and invasive. It is, by design and intent, an abandonment of accountability of our democratically elected representatives who, the Constitution reminds us, are the trustees and servants of the people, and of their liberties.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

James Jardine February 1, 2020 at 9:31 pm

John, the obvious, but often overlooked, reality is that those who can least afford to pay a “carbon tax” or purchase a new electric car or hybrid vehicle and purchase a modern, recently built energy efficient home are the ones who will be most impacted by a carbon tax. A carbon tax will fail at its mission to reduce consumption of fossil fuels because those who are strongly motivated to reduce their consumption and are financially able to do so will do so without a “carbon tax.” Those who truly NEED to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels because they would benefit from a reduction in fossil fuel purchases are the ones who purchase fossil fuels and cannot reduce their consumption.


kyle February 2, 2020 at 9:36 pm

John, I agree. The proposals coming out of Montpelier are absurd, and I’m glad EAI exists to help provide some sanity to the discussion.

But I wish you would stop with the sarcastic “climate emergency” rhetoric. You can support free market ideology and acknowledge the climate science; the two are not mutually exclusive. The link between human activity and CO2 levels is incontrovertible. It is inconceivable to me that we are still debating the existence of human caused climate change. At least if we could all acknowledge the truth, then we could at least debate how to solve it, at which point we could discuss free market solutions versus big government socialism solutions. Humans aren’t going to die off next year due to climate change as some of these folks would have you believe, but we ought to take it very seriously.

People like to say “the Earth has been hotter/colder before! It’s a hoax!” Yes the Earth has been hotter/colder before, but it’s never experienced the rate of change we are seeing now (which is a result of the greenhouse effect from “human activity.” If you don’t believe this, go sit in your car under the sun in the summer with the windows closed for an hour). This nice graphic may help.


Gavin February 5, 2020 at 11:25 pm

Link between co2 and climate is not incontravertable.


Richard Dietz February 6, 2020 at 2:56 pm

John, I read your your opinion piece as republished recently in the Claremont, NH newspaper. I am a retired civil engineer and over my adult professional career of 60 years have come to the undeniable conclusion that climate change resulting from our civilization will positively effect the way we as humans seek to survive in the future. Sadly, your article suggests you don’t believe that. And, persons like you and President Trump use your positions to argue in support of that folly. Is it possible you might be uneducated to the actual science and facts all pointing to a radical climate interruption?
Just where does all the heat from a million automobiles driving around Washington, DC on a daily basis go?


Ivan st george February 9, 2020 at 5:09 pm

Clearly one is left to ponder where the heat from a million automobiles goes, could it be they were around 20,000 years ago when the ice melted in north America carving the great lakes and lake champlain and how about the whale fossils found at elevation, or how about the land bridges from Siberia to Alaska and Europe to Great Britain.
I don’t recall their being cars ,trucks and Jets back then


Marie R. Chamberlin February 20, 2020 at 3:54 am

This bill is unconstitutional. Period. It is autocracy at its worst.
Additionally, it will further impoverish people in this state, where we rely on cars to get from one rural place to another, and punish those who, because they can’t afford the high real estate prices in the Chittenden County area, have moved to the outlying areas, and have to travel to work. This is totally regressive policy, and one has to wonder if this symbolic measure isn’t more about enslaving and bankrupting the populace than meaningful action to “save the planet”.
It is the pinnacle of arrogance for mankind to think we can destroy what God has so perfectly created to be self-cleansing- the Earth’s climate.


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