Gov. Peter Shumlin laid down a little noticed but important policy marker in his inaugural address. After a highly questionable recitation of the alleged magnitude of environmental change, he went on to say: "While leaders across America, influenced by the extraordinary economic power of oil, coal, and automobile companies, equivocate about climate change. We must not. That our planet is warming at an alarming rate is undeniable."
Whether or not a global average increase of one degree F over the next century - most of it at high altitudes and latitudes - is "alarming" is a matter of one's sensitivity to very small changes. Clearly it alarms Gov. Shumlin, though, and he wants it to alarm us. Because once we are alarmed, we'll be much more likely to buy into his ambitious agenda to make Vermont the world's leader in reversing greenhouse gas emissions.
This, he appears to seriously believe, will bring renown to little Vermont (and its governor). It will make this state a magnet for all sorts of green enterprises, which will locate here, import productive families with children, and provide a much needed (by him) rationale for expanding our public school system to save the jobs of VT-NEA teachers with an average of 12 pupils in their classrooms.
So Vermonters will certainly hear again from the new governor: The planet is racing toward Al Gore's Heat Death! Desperate big-government "solutions" must be implemented! Here! Now!
That agenda, introduced and promoted by Sen. Shumlin in 2008, calls for an energy super-government, the "climate collaborative", to "coordinate statewide activities on climate change and all related energy activities."
This unprecedented nine-member public body would supervise a bewildering array of task forces and working groups to produce a host of reports advocating new regulations, controls, mandates, plans, rules, standards, taxes, and subsidies. Among them:
strict "smart growth" land use control strategies,
mandated universal registration of greenhouse gas emissions,
a state managed "cap and trade" scheme covering CO2 emissions
aggressive implementation of Act 200's planning mandates,
new Act 250 rules to impose "carbon neutrality" on developments,
doubling (heavily subsidized) passenger rail traffic by 2028,
getting single-occupancy vehicles off the highways,
steeply increased sales and use taxes and registration fees on low-mpg vehicles,
energy efficiency standards that homeowners must meet before selling their homes.
Add to this other Shumlin favorites - the thermal efficiency utility funded by new heating fuel taxes, subsidies to the makers and users of approved renewable energy, and mandates on the utilities to buy "renewable" electricity at four times the market price - and you have a detailed blueprint for the Extreme Green Police State.
Some might not agree, so the proposed collaborative would also develop a indoctrination program: a "public education and engagement framework to encourage behavior change", through "social marketing strategies with broad ethical goals." An example: "in-depth, science-based in-school programs on energy efficiency and climate change at all levels."
Fortunately, in 2008, cooler heads prevailed. Most of the truly costly and dangerous provisions of the VPIRG agenda, including the super-government, shrank to relative insignificance in the House.
The collaborative was to have been funded through the inexhaustible General Fund. But since the General Fund now faces a $150 million deficit that nobody has yet explained how to cover, that seems problematic.
And if Gov. Shumlin and VPIRG achieve their heart's desire of shutting down Vermont Yankee, that favorite Shumlin target of extortion won't be generating any more revenues after 2012. So it's a good question what combination of mandated business spending, forced purchases, hidden taxes, and "fees" Gov. Shumlin can cobble together to finance this veritable Manhattan Project of Green Social Engineering.
Vermonters need to grasp the fact that after eight years of Gov. Jim Douglas agreeing in principle with most of the Green arguments, but leaning against action steps that would undermine the economy, jack up tax rates, and invade people's liberties, they now have a governor eager to lead us out of the slough of inactivity.
The only countervailing force is the people of Vermont. They need to say, loudly, that efficiency is good, cost-effective renewable energy is good, but the VPIRG-style Green Police State is a threat to our prosperity and liberties, and the legislators who vote for any more of this stuff will pay for it dearly two years hence.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).