While Democrat lawmakers strongly support a bill that would allow the state to enforce emissions standards for energy, heat and transportation, Republicans say now is not the time for new costs while Vermont suffers through a self-inflicted economic collapse.
The bill, H.688, called the Global Warming Solutions Act, would set reduction targets for 2025, 2030 and 2050. In particular, the bill creates a special council that will make recommendations to the state on how to mandate reductions to meet the targets. The bill also allows for “any person” to bring lawsuits against the state if those targets aren’t met.
Sen. Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, is among those lawmakers who feel this is the wrong bill at the wrong time.
“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 said. “It has a lot of working parts and tremendous impacts that have not been fleshed out in a way that I would prefer to see them being fleshed out.”
Benning says the only priorities that should be left for this session are ones that pertain to the budget.
“This bill will not help us adjourn,” he said.
Solar and wind power tend to cost more than their non-renewable counterparts. Benning said cost is just one issue.
“Those are the kinds of details that we don’t have time to iron out,” he said.
Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, supports the bill. He says it should have been taken up a long time ago.
“No, this is not an appropriate time, this should have been dealt with a couple of decades ago,” he said. “COVID is a good example of what happens when you don’t get on things when they come up.”
He said global warming is still a pressing issue.
“It has been known that global warming issues are changing the world in which we live,” he said.
Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, was one of only two lawmakers who voted against the bill as it passed out of the House Energy and Technology Committee. He says it is a bad time.
“It’s going to be a tough few years going forward here, and bills like that, that impose certain mandates to get to a certain benchmark, can be really devastating,” he said.
In addition to driving up energy, transportation and heating costs, it’s also going to demand more finances from the state budget for staff positions.
“To have it come back up now with all kinds of work for the different agencies, I think it was close to a million dollars over two years for two or three new employees to work on this, and the setting up the whole new committee, it’s just not the time in my mind to go down this road,” Higley said.
He said there is mixed messaging on how the Senate is going to handle the bill.
“One report was they weren’t gonna take it up, and the next report was I heard they are gonna take it up, so I don’t know,” Higley said.
Rob Roper, president of the free-market think tank the Ethan Allen Institute, is one of the bill’s many critics.
“It would work by severely restricting or stopping entirely economic activity that produces GHGs, which is, of course, practically everything,” he wrote.
According to Roper, the bill could result in limits or banning of gas-power vehicles, gas-powered machines, gas and/or wood heating, and even public events like stock-car racing at Thunder Road.