By Guy Page
Expect the Vermont Senate to fully fund the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) when the Legislature returns in August, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, said on an Energy Action Network (EAN) zoom call Wednesday.
H.688 would establish regulatory authority for the state of Vermont to enforce carbon reductions in virtually every arm of state government and its decision-making. It would also allow civil suits against the state if it fails to reach 90% carbon emissions reduction by 2050. The Senate declined to approve the $1 million set-up cost in June but will restore funding when it reconvenes to set the budget for the final nine months of the 2020-21 state budget.
At his press conference Friday, Gov. Phil Scott said he would only support the bill if changes were made, including removal of allowing private lawsuit of the state for not meeting carbon emissions goals. But if that change isn’t made, “I’m not in favor of it,” he said. He said he doesn’t know if House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, would have the 100 votes needed to override his veto.
On the EAN call, Ashe said the Senate’s previous unwillingness to fund H.688 was just a matter of timing. “With a level of effort of new staffing that was required, we wanted to make sure we understood better before committing the dollars,” Ashe said. “So we are going to fund it, to get the work done. It’s just we were saving it for the full year budget when we come back.”
The General Fund faces a $400-plus million revenue shortfall, due to the pandemic. The Education Fund is an estimated $80 million in the hole. Unless the next federal government “recovery” package includes the $3 billion for Vermont state and local government approved in a recent U.S. House bill, lawmakers will be forced to raise taxes or cut spending or both.
Large new expenditures, therefore, are being viewed with skepticism by some lawmakers. But no such reluctance exists for Ashe, or for Johnson, who told the EAN listeners: “We are going to be acting on it, absolutely we absolutely will get it to the governor’s desk.” The only question is whether its funded within H.688 itself or in the full state budget. She characterized GWSA as “holding Vermonters accountable.”
If Scott chooses to veto H.688, Johnson noted there were 105 supporters in the House vote in February — more than the 100 needed to override. “We’ll be looking carefully to those people who thought it was a good idea in February and will continue to think it’s a good idea in September.” They’ll have to justify it if they now think otherwise, she said.
Ashe also addressed other climate legislation:
- Park and ride spaces are up 35% over the last two years, thanks to work done “very quietly” in the Transportation bill.
- S.220 has passed the Senate and is under review in the House. It embeds “energy and environmental instruction in the licensure process,” Ashe said. It sets education and licensing requirements for all the licensed professionals (plumbers, electricians, landscape architects) “whose work can have a helpful contribution to our meeting our energy goals…the second half of the bill is almost all new continuing education requirements and licensure requirements so that people really understand how their work impacts our collective challenges.”
- S.267 would require all Vermont electricity be generated renewably and instate. It’s been discussed in Senate Finance but not voted out. Ashe reluctantly told the listening group of enthusiastic renewable power advocates that forcing Vermont to go to 100% instate renewable power would cost too much: “The, uh, I mean, and we can have a discussion about this, I’ll just say the challenge has been the, uh, claim, the, uh, assertion, or uh, characterization of the bill is one that’s going to have very, uh, upward impacts on rates for utility payers.”
Ashe is correct — enacting just two of the five steps outlined in S.267 would raise Vermont electricity costs by $1.2 billion over five years, VELCO studies show.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.