State News

House approves global solutions law

Staff report

The Vermont House gave final approval to H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act, in a vote of 102-45 on Sept. 9. The House concurred with the Senate proposal of amendment and the bill was delivered to the Governor on Sept. 10.

The Vermont Senate passed its version of the Global Warming Solutions Act on June 25 in a 22-8 vote.

Despite the overwhelming approval from the State House and Senate, Gov. Phil Scott is likely to veto it. Scott and his administration have signaled they are uncomfortable with the prospect of opening up the state to lawsuits if it does not meet emission goals.

The governor sent a letter to State House leaders on Aug. 12, outlining his concerns. On Tuesday Scott said lawmakers had not dealt with all the issues he has with the bill.

“They feel that they have gone as far as they can,” Scott said of the Legislature’s work on the proposal. “I have some, you know, some concerns that have not been met at this point that I think are detrimental to the state.”

“Climate change is one of the most critical issues impacting our future,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero). “This bill converts goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions into requirements, establishes a planning process to achieve the emissions reduction requirements, and defines a ‘Cause of Action’ that allows citizens to hold their government accountable for action. The Global Warming Solutions Act ensures accountability and resiliency for our future. Climate change is real, the climate crisis is here, and Vermonters cannot afford to wait any longer to address it.”

“The Global Warming Solutions Act is about protecting Vermont’s most vulnerable citizens and communities,” added Representative Tim Briglin (D-Thetford), chair of the House Committee on Energy & Technology. “It’s about planning for increasingly severe weather events, and preparing for the opportunity and transition to a clean energy economy.  It’s about state government being accountable to Vermont citizens. If we have learned anything from the pandemic of the last six months, we know hope is not a strategy. Neither is fear. The climate crisis is upon us. We need to plan. We need to prepare. And, we need our government to be accountable.”

H.688 would require the state to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Emissions would need to be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by 2050.

It would also legally mandate that the state meet carbon emission reductions targets and allow individuals to sue the government if it fails to do so.

Over the last decade, other states including Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine have enacted similar legislation requiring that they cut emissions in the coming decades.

As Vermont’s emissions have increased in recent years — with the most recent data from 2015 showing emissions 16% higher than 1990 levels — Democratic lawmakers made passing the Global Warming Solutions Act a priority heading into the 2020 session.

While the legislation sets up new emissions reduction requirements, it does not spell out or dictate how the state will meet them. Instead, it creates a 23-member climate council — with the governor’s secretary of administration acting as the chair and consisting of state government officials, representation from the manufacturing sector, citizen experts and others, to come up with a pollution reduction plan.

House Republicans urge veto

Vermont House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy (R-Poultney) issued the following statement on H. 688, Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA): “Vermont House Republicans have stood united against the GWSA, which includes several untenable and unacceptable provisions. The grant of immense authority to implement a Climate Action Plan to an unelected council represents an unprecedented violation of both Legislative and executive authority. Further, the cause of action created by the bill will expose the state—and by extension, Vermont taxpayers—to massive legal liability that we cannot predict or control.

“Let me be clear: climate change is real and must be addressed. Ironically, despite its name, this bill includes no real policy solutions—just talking points and a flashy headline. It does not actually solve the problem or do the real policy work necessary. In a large sense, the Legislature is ducking its responsibility to an unelected council.

“In contrast, Vermont House Republicans have repeatedly laid out climate solutions that have been entirely ignored by the Majority party. Rather than focusing on bipartisan incentives and programs, the Majority party has made it clear that they prefer power grabs and government intrusion.

“For these reasons, the Vermont House Republican Caucus urges Governor Scott to veto H.688,” McCoy concluded.

Kit Norton, VTDigger, contributed to this report.

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