This week House lawmakers will be reviewing the Global Warming Solutions Act, a piece of legislation that would change renewable energy goals into mandates and allow individuals to sue to the state if the quotas are missed.
The bill, H.688, was passed out of the Senate on June 25. The House chamber now gets to work on the amended version, but in the light of new demands Gov. Phil Scott made to legislative leaders earlier this month in a letter.
In Scott’s Aug. 12 letter to House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, the governor argued that a proposed Climate Council responsible for setting energy plans must have all members appointed through the executive branch to “avoid the constitutional conflict that will arise around separation of powers.”
Scott also took issue with the bill’s provision allowing for lawsuits against Vermont if the state fails to meet climate goals by certain dates. “The unrealistic timelines increase the likelihood of lawsuits,” he wrote. “By the time the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) emerges from the planning and rulemaking processes, there will not be enough time to demonstrate the desired results before the first deadline.”
Additionally, the governor also wants the Climate Action Plan promulgated by the council to be voted on by the full Legislature, and he wants details about funding. Lawmakers have yet to specify appropriations for H.688.
“Given our challenging economic conditions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be
particularly mindful of what Vermonters and businesses can afford,” Scott wrote.
While the Senate rejected similar proposals from the governor in May, the House could reconsider them this week in light of a potential veto threat — one that requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to override.
Representatives in the House have a few options for how to move ahead. If lawmakers pass the Senate-amended bill as is and send it to the governor, it will almost certainly trigger a veto. To avoid this, the House could amend H.688 to include Scott’s proposal, after which it would need to go back to the Senate.
Another option is for House lawmakers to reject the Senate-amended version and ask for a committee of conference in which six conferees — three from each body — could try to hammer out compromises there. They could, for example, attempt to adopt the Senate amendments and insert elements of the governor’s proposal. Taking the conference committee route could encounter procedural challenges, however, if the final legislation involves measures that have not yet passed the House or Senate.
The Global Warming Solutions Act aims to address global warming by forcing Vermonters reduce their emissions. Carbon emission requirements in the bill include a reduction of 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, then 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Finally, emissions must be reduced to 80 percent below by 2050. The Agency of Natural Resources would be required to implement the new policies created by the council.
Some of the bill’s critics, including Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, have opposed the legislation in part due to the need for lawmakers to focus on the COVID-19 economic crisis.
“I don’t believe that we have the time to devote to this issue, and trying to do it under the circumstances that we are in right now means we means we are not going to devote the time that we need to,” Benning told True North in June.
House Minority Leader Patricia McCoy, R-Poultney recently echoed that sentiment.
“Vermonters are struggling at a level unheard of since the Great Depression,” she wrote in a statement. “The effects of a global pandemic and economic crisis have not only taken its toll on state budgets, but more importantly, on the personal budgets of everyday Vermonters trying to make ends meet.”
McCoy also took issue with the Climate Council’s lack of accountability to voters or the Legislature.
“This unelected council would be able to implement an overarching climate plan without the will of the Legislature, removing any connection between the council and the people of Vermont,” she wrote.
Some environmentalists, including Mark Whitworth, president of Energize Vermont, also have criticized the bill.
“The bill’s only targets relate to carbon emissions from selected sources,” he wrote. “So, the real effect of the bill will be to provide statutory justification for the environmentally-damaging energy projects that a majority of Vermonters oppose.”