Rep. Mike Yantachka
Town Meeting week marks the halfway point in the legislative session. We are approaching an important date called “crossover” set for March 15. In order to be passed by the House and sent to the Senate in time for their consideration, any bill not voted out of committee by that date is put on hold for this session. Since this is only four days after we return from the Town Meeting break, I expect we’ll have a very busy week.
The focus of the Energy and Technology Committee has been primarily on improving access to high speed broadband, especially in rural communities. In addition, our committee provided input to the Appropriations Committee on broadband, Information Technology, and energy-related expenditures. Our IT recommendations support administrative efficiencies as well as an increased attention to cybersecurity. Our concerns about climate change and the increase in Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from transportation (43%) and heating (24%), also led us to recommend doubling the assistance for low- and moderate-income home weatherization and tripling the Governor’s recommendation for electric vehicle (EV) incentives.
Vermont’s Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income Vermonters to lower their energy burden (the percent of their income spent on heat and other home energy uses). It also provides significant health and safety benefits and educates recipients about managing their energy use. It is funded by a 2 cent per gallon tax on home heating and diesel fuel and a 0.75% tax on natural gas and raises about $6 million per year. Combined with funding from the federal Department of Energy, about 860 homes per year can be weatherized to reduce their fossil fuel consumption and heating expenses. The need is much higher, however. The Weatherization Assistance Program has extremely long waiting lists across the state.
Because of the understandable prioritization to serve the lowest income families first, many eligible, low-income Vermonters are waiting years to be served while thermal energy continues to be wasted, unnecessary amounts of fossil fuels are burned, and Vermonters continue to live in cold, unhealthy and dangerous conditions. Our recommendation is to double the fuel and natural gas taxes over two years and dedicate a third of the increased revenues for assistance to moderate-income households as well.
To reduce emissions from transportation, Governor Scott recommended $1.5M for point of sale rebates on new and used EVs in his budget proposal.
Last July Vermont received a $6.5M consumer fraud settlement from Volkswagen for air pollution violations of which $2.9M was refunded to consumers and $3.6M was transferred to the General Fund. Vermont will also receive a settlement of $907,000 from a similar lawsuit against Fiat-Chrysler and Bosch in March. Our committee voted to recommend that these revenues be dedicated to EV and Hybrid EV incentives, increasing the amount to $4.3M and replacing thousands of less fuel-efficient vehicles.
With four working days to vote an energy bill out of committee, we will try to combine several small bills to make community solar net metering projects more available for residential as well as municipal and school district use. It is also likely that we will be voting on the House proposal for a paid family leave insurance program (H.107).
I am very happy to have been able to meet with constituents during my “office hours” at the Charlotte Library and at Spear’s Store in East Charlotte. Look for the next “office hours” opportunity on Front Porch Forum.
I welcome your emails, phone calls at (802) 233-5238, or in-person contacts. This article and others can be found at my website.