Governor Scott Vetos Affordable Heat Act

VERMONT - Governor Phil Scott (R-Vermont) announced his intention to veto bill S.5, more commonly known as the Affordable Heat Act. The act has become one of the most controversial debates this legislative session.

The goal of the act is to reduce the amount of carbon pollution released into Earth's atmosphere and reduce the heating costs of homes and buildings. Should the act be enacted, a two-year review window led by the Public Utility Commission and Department of Public Service would launch to gather public engagement and input into the design of the program. Results would be released in 2025 which would be followed by the legislature again having to vote to implement the plan in 2026. However, Republican lawmakers say that this bill will result in more financial strain on low income Vermonters.

Prior to the act's final passage in the House, Republican Representative Scott Beck (R-Caledonia-3) proposed two amendments that 1) those who heat their homes with natural gas would be treated the same as those who heat with oil or propane and 2) move the two-year review findings release date to be prior to the 2024 State General Election. The amendments were not agreed upon and the Commission will continue to be able to release their findings in 2025.

Representative Beck stated "Vermont [has] been doing a tremendous amount... to get people to use less carbon and it's actually worked. Carbon use, heating oil use is down dramatically in Vermont; renewable energy, solar and wind are up dramatically in Vermont. I mean we are going in the right direction here and we are going in the right direction by using education and incentives and I don't think it's appropriate to start to penalize people because they're, for whatever reason, probably economics, aren't able to make that shift right now."

Following the passage of the act in the House, Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski (D-Chittenden-6-3) stated "this legislation is among the most meaningful actions we can take to reduce carbon emissions, build resilience, and help families transition our economy away from reliance on fossil fuels. The Affordable Heat Act is vital for our state's environment and economy. The cost of doing nothing is too great, and we must act now."

In his statement announcing his intent to veto, Gov. Scott stated that the act will have "significant impacts on Vermonters by orchestrating a system that will give people two options: pay significantly more in fuel costs or spend thousands of dollars to install electrical heating systems, when most don't have the financial means to do either." Scott added "I will veto S.5, and I'm asking Vermonters, even the many who have already contacted their legislators, to make their voices heard and ask their representatives and senators to sustain this veto."

Following the Governor's announcement, Representative Scott Campbell (D-Caledonia-3) stated that he was "disappointed that the Governor choses to hold a glass-half-empty view of the bill.  The check-back provision is solid, contrary to the Gov's characterization: a clean-heat credit market cannot proceed without a new bill being introduced in the next Legislature in 2025, vetted through committees, passed by both House and Senate, and review by the Governor." Campbell added that the Governor "talks the talk on climate change, but repeatedly balks at truly walking the walk."

The act would establish a Clean Heat Standard that would require fuel dealers importing fuel into the state to help customers reduce climate pollution overtime by delivering or paying for cleaner fuel options. This requirement is in support of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act. The first reduction benchmark of this act occurs in 2025. Recent modeling conducted by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has concluded that the state is not on track to meet the 2025 and 2030 carbon reduction benchmarks required by law. In the latest year studied, 2020, thermal use in buildings (RCI) accounted for 35.9% of the state's carbon emissions during that year.

The Affordable Heat Act is not the first time that legislators have tried to create a Clean Heat Standard. During last year's legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that was also ultimately vetoed by Gov. Scott. The legislature failed to override the veto.  Following Gov. Scott's official veto of the Affordable Heat Act attention will turn to the Senate to see if lawmakers will have the votes to override the veto.