(The Center Square) – On a narrow 4-3 vote, a Vermont Senate panel on Tuesday advanced legislation that could set in motion a study looking at greenhouse gas reductions and the cost of doing so across the state.
On the heels of verbal and written public testimony and several revisions, the Committee on Appropriations voted to forward to the full Senate the legislation. It is more formally known as Senate Bill 5.
At its core, SB 5 touches on the state’s mandated reduction of greenhouse gas for the thermal sector and using such measures as electrification, decarbonization, efficiency and weatherization as substitutions from the more traditional source.
More specifically, the legislation inches the state toward a uniform clean heat standard. If adopted in its existing status, SB 5 would require the state Public Utility Commission to submit to the General Assembly a final set of rules on the standard by early 2025.
While there has been ongoing support for taking steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the cost of transitioning to clean heat has been a concern as well.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday received two new pieces of written testimony that portrays the variety of views on the proposed transition.
Matt Cota, of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, said a credit system could result in an uneven playing field.
“While the two largest sellers of fossil fuels (Vermont Gas and Global Oil) support Senate Bill #5, there are more than one hundred small family fuel dealers that do not,” Cota wrote. “They will be obligated under the law and have to compete for credits with much larger and well funded for-profit businesses. Or just buy from one wholesaler.”
Dana Adams, legislative policy manager with the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, endorsed of SB 5, saying it would reduce Vermont’s traditionally high greenhouse gas emissions.
“Vermont will benefit greatly from a well-rounded clean heat standard that considers both short- and long-term decarbonization strategies and how best to utilize complimentary technologies to achieve near- and long-term climate goals,” Adams wrote.
During deliberations at Tuesday’s meeting, state Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Danville, said the bill is designed to begin next steps in the transition process, which first will entail a study.
Results from the study, Kitchel said, will guide future policy decisions. The study is expected to last about six months.
“We do need to understand the full impact of what is being proposed here,” said Kitchel, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
But state Sen. Dick Sears Jr., D-North Bennington, offered a different view on the process and questioned why any bill was under consideration at this point.
“If we’re studying something, why are we also putting the mechanism in place?” Sears said. “I thought we would study it and determine if it’s practical or not.”
In addition to Kitchel, state Sens. Philip Baruth, D-Montpelier, Virginia Lyons, D-Williston, and Andrew Perchlik, D-Montpelier, voted in favor of SB 5.
Sears cast a dissenting vote, as did state Sens. Robert Starr, D-North Troy, and Richard Westman, R-Cambridge.