• Tim Briglin

Clean Heat Standard perspective

Last evening as I was preparing this post to share my perspective with you on the Clean Heat Standard bill now before the Vermont legislature, I received an email that finished my work for me. Jared Duval, a long-time Vermont climate activist who leads the Energy Action Network and serves as a member of Vermont’s Climate Council, shared with me what he emailed to one of my constituents as well as to the 350VT climate activist group. Here, in part, is Jared’s email:


Those of us serving on the Clean Heat working group and on the Climate Council have been working in a dedicated and diligent manner for over a year to craft a Clean Heat Standard and a Climate Action Plan that effectively and equitably meets Vermont's moral and legal responsibility to significantly reduce climate pollution.


And, specific to the Clean Heat Standard, a broad array of environmental/climate organizations have responsibly and productively engaged to make it as good of a policy as possible, including VNRC, VPIRG, CLF, Sierra Club, REV, and others.


I want to be clear about the stakes here. The Clean Heat Standard is the single most important piece of climate policy Vermont has ever considered. If implemented as designed, it will do more to reduce GHG emissions than any other policy Vermont has previously passed. For folks who aren't familiar with the Clean Heat Standard already, you can read about what it actually is (as opposed to much of the misinformation that is circulating about it) here and here.


Let me provide a sense of scale:


In 2018, approx. 128 million gallons of fuel oil, 119 million gallons of propane, and 14 billion cubic feet (bcf) of fossil gas were purchased and burned in Vermont.


The CHS requires a 40% reduction in GHG emissions from the thermal sector by 2030. To put this in simple terms, just in the year 2030, conservatively measured, that would equate to burning 60 million fewer gallons of fuel oil, over 40 million gallons less of propane, and over 5.5 bcf less of fossil gas as compared to 2018 (altogether, over one million metric tons of GHG emissions reduced). Note: these reductions of fossil fuel use would likely actually be greater, because different clean heat measures receive different clean heat credits -- so while weatherization and heat pumps will score very well on a lifecycle emissions carbon intensity scale, most biofuels will not and so will only receive partial credit. For more on how this works, see: https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/clean-fuel-standards_0.pdf)


And, of course, the cumulative fossil fuel and emissions reduction over the decade would be much higher. If we assume linear reductions over the period, it would be on the order of reducing nearly 400 million gallons of fuel oil, over 250 million gallons of propane, and over 35 bcf of fossil gas by 2030. This is finally nearing the order of magnitude that climate responsibility -- and consumer protection for Vermonters -- requires.


I understand and share skepticism about RNG and many biofuels.


However, on RNG, if we can prevent methane that would otherwise be released from going into the atmosphere, that is a very good thing. At the same time, we also have to make sure that there are safeguards -- not only against misleading offsets but also against creating markets for ag-based RNG from manure or other sources that otherwise would not have existed were it not for the economic value generated by fuel credit systems (this has been an issue in CA and I think we can learn from their experience).


I also know that there are a wide variety of biofuels: some that are far better than fossil fuels (for instance B100 biodiesel made from used restaurant oil, which is what my home's backup heating system runs on); some that are only marginally better on a lifecycle basis; and some that are actually worse than fossil fuels. It is factually untrue to paint all biofuels with the same brush, because there is wide variation in their emissions profiles based on factors ranging from sourcing to production, etc. And the Clean Heat Standard is carefully designed to account for that. Because it is based on lifecycle emissions, some biofuels will not be eligible for credits, some will only earn a small fraction of credits, and some a larger amount. There is very important nuance here.


As someone who has been part of the climate movement for over twenty years now (including working with Bill, May, Jamie, Will, Phil, and other 350 founders on the initial march from Ripton to Burlington back in 2006, on Step It Up efforts that followed, and much more...), I know that we must work passionately to build the better world we imagine.


But I also know that we have to recognize and work in the world as it currently is. That means being honest with ourselves that in the near to medium term (certainly between now and 2030), it is simply infeasible to meet all of Vermont's heating needs by electricity alone (for building stock reasons, technological limitations, economic and workforce reasons, etc.). And where heat pumps can't be used to meet all of a home or building's heating load, we need to have a role for advanced wood heat and sustainable biofuels to displace fossil heat, for resilience, emissions reduction, and cost reduction reasons.


And for the approximately 25% of Vermonters served by VGS, we need to find ways to help them reduce fossil fuel use -- hopefully primarily via weatherization and heat pumps. But if RNG can also displace fossil gas and reduce emissions, that should not be dismissed out of hand. Again, there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot -- especially given the magnitude of our task and the urgency we face.


A call to "kill" the Clean Heat Standard would take away the most important, most effective fossil fuel and GHG reduction tool Vermont has ever considered. The Clean Heat Standard is the largest plank, in terms of GHG reductions, of the Climate Action Plan. So when I hear "kill" the Clean Heat Standard, I hear that as a desire to kill the Climate Action Plan and the Global Warming Solutions Act that so many in this community and all across Vermont have worked so hard on, in good faith and with deep care and commitment.


I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit:


"When the "perfect" is the enemy of the good, not only is it not perfect, it is not good."


At this point in time, it is difficult for me to imagine an end result of opposing the Clean Heat Standard being any other than to help extend the fossil fueled status quo for even longer, leading to even more pollution and costs that we simply can't afford.


I beg those of you who value facts and reason and who, I know, deeply care about making real climate progress, to step back and think for a moment. Do you really want to get behind "killing" the most important piece of climate policy Vermont has ever had a real chance of passing -- and by extension undermine the entire Climate Action Plan? That would set us back years and probably end any chance of meeting our GWSA requirements.


I know that killing the Clean Heat Standard is what anti-science, climate denying, Koch Brothers funded groups on the ideological extreme and many of the fossil fuel corporations want (as you can tell from recent commentaries and paid advertising attacking the CHS) but I can't believe that's what most 350 members -- an organization founded on a scientific and moral imperative for climate action at the scale and pace necessary -- really wants.


If you want to ensure that the Clean Heat Standard ends up as strong and effective as possible in the legislature and PUC, by all means please join those of us already working carefully and constructively to do so, from Climate Council members to VPIRG to CLF to VNRC and more. But whatever you do, please stop calling for it to be "killed."


To paraphrase Sam Rayburn: "anyone can knock a barn down. It takes a carpenter to build one." Please, at this moment of urgency and peril, let each of us commit to being carpenters.


Thank you for your consideration,


Jared Duval,

Member, Vermont Climate Council


The Energy Action Network white paper on the Clean Heat Standard is an excellent read if you want to dig into the CHS details. If you’ve only got a few minutes, the two-page summary may also be helpful.


There has been a flurry of news stories on the Clean Heat Standard in recent weeks. I found this Seven Days piece helpful regarding some of the politics, and this VPR piece helpful as an overview.


Plenty of op-ed pieces out there on the Clean Heat Standard. Here is one from Maura Collins, who leads the VT Housing Finance Agency, and points to a CHS as a tool to combat poverty and inequities tied to housing and climate change. VTDigger commentaries by Rich Cowart & Chris Neme and by former State Representative and Climate Caucus Chair Mary Sullivan are good reads.


The Clean Heat Standard bill currently in the Vermont House, H.715, was voted out of my committee last week by a 7-2 vote (6 Democrats and one independent in favor, 2 Republicans opposed) and may be up for a vote in the full House by mid-March.


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Best ways to reach Tim:

tbriglin@leg.state.vt.us

tim@tuckermancapital.com

Cell: (802) 384-8256

Home: (802) 785-2414

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jmasland@leg.state.vt.us

jamesq56@yahoo.com

Home: (802) 785-4146

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Jim Masland and Tim Briglin were elected to represent the Windsor-Orange 2 district towns of Norwich, Sharon, Strafford, and Thetford in the Vermont House of Representatives.  Their current two-year term is for 2021-2022.

 

Jim Masland is serving his eleventh term in the Statehouse and is a member of the Ways & Means Committee.

 

Tim Briglin is serving his third term in the Statehouse and is the Chair of the Energy & Technology Committee.

 

You can find Jim and Tim's seats in the General Assembly by clicking here.  Their seat numbers are #82 and #93, respectively.

 

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