Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has issued a statement saying he will resist any legal efforts by Gov. Phil Scott to oppose the Global Warming Solutions Act.
At the November meeting of the new 23-member climate council created through the act, Secretary of Administration Susanne Young noted there could be a legal challenge to the law coming from the administration. Young said the governor’s office hopes the law can be clarified in the upcoming legislative session to address constitutional concerns.
The fallout from that meeting prompted Deputy Attorney General Joshua Diamond to produce a letter indicating that his office would oppose such legal challenges.
“As you know, the GWSA is a landmark law that addresses global warming, an existential threat to the health and safety of every Vermonter,” the letter states. “Media outlets have reported that the Governor is considering a constitutional challenge to the GWSA. I want to let you know that the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (“AGO”) will defend the GWSA if the Governor brings such a lawsuit.”
The letter indicates that if a legal challenge were to proceed, the attorney general’s office will not continue to have meetings with the governor’s office to discuss legal details.
“Given the threatened litigation, a meeting to discuss legal theories, defenses, and other approaches would not be appropriate,” Diamond wrote.
The letter argues that the GWSA, which recasts state carbon-fuel reduction targets into mandates, is constitutional. When the governor and lawmakers last negotiated the bill — which passed based on House and Senate overrides of the governor’s veto in mid-September — the governor had a list of demands for changes to the bill, which were never met.
One of the governor’s key concerns was that the climate council making up these new energy policies would not be accountable to the electorate and therefore unconstitutional. That’s in addition to concerns he had about the cost of carbon reduction to Vermonters.
Donovan argues that the people are behind the GWSA because elected-lawmakers voted it in.
“There is nothing wrong with holding government accountable to the will of its people,” he said.
A statement from Donovan’s office details further why he believes this to be true: “The Climate Action Plan [created by the Climate Council] will provide a framework for the Agency of Natural Resources to promulgate rules to achieve mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” it states. “The Vermont legislature overwhelmingly voted in favor of the GWSA, reflecting broad public support for this important law.”
At the conclusion, his office lists some more of the arguments they will put forward on why the GWSA is constitutional as is:
Because the GWSA requires that the Agency of Natural Resources – a part of the executive branch – implements the GWSA, not the Climate Council, there can be no usurpation of the executive branch’s authority.
The letter further points out that the Climate Council is not controlled by the legislature and is in fact chaired by the secretary of administration.
The governor’s legal counsel has since indicated that they hope to avoid litigation if possible.
In Diamond’s letter, he reminds of the ambitious energy policy targets set by the new law. Specifically, by 2050, Vermont must lower CO2 emissions by 80% from what they were in 1990. Emissions must be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.