By Guy Page
On Thursday, the Vermont House of Representatives approved H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), by a seemingly veto-proof margin of 105-37.
If it becomes law, GWSA would require a 21-member Climate Cabinet to act aggressively to reduce carbon emissions. If it fails to meet target goals, GWSA gives lawyers the right to sue the state and the courts the right to order the state to comply.
Under GWSA, it’s conceivable that without further legislative action Vermont would “have to” adopt a carbon tax and spend over a billion dollars to rework the state’s electricity grid in favor of widespread solar power. Both of those proposals are on the legislative table right now but are being criticized as just too costly. Environmental lawyers skilled in wielding the new power of GWSA could force the State to ignore that objection.
And that, apparently, is just fine with the Almighty — according to a pastor who addressed the Legislature as yesterday’s session opened.
Most daily sessions of the House open with a brief devotion in the form of a sermonette or prayer. They are delivered by people of all faiths (including no faith) and there’s just one rule: don’t get political. If asked like the Rabbi Hillel to sum up the policy while standing on one foot, a state House clerk would answer, “never, ever talk about pending legislation.”
And yet that’s just what the Rev. Carl Van Osdall, First Presbyterian Church, in Barre, did. He warmed to his subject by reminding lawmakers (several times) that in the Genesis story, God created humankind on the sixth day to “take responsibility for” the natural world. (The text actually says “take dominion of,” but, well, whatever.) He then reminded them that this Legislature often must vote on protecting nature. And then, in case anyone had failed to connect the dots, he reminded them, “and today, you are voting on the Global Warming Solutions Act.”
Last year, Rev. Rosaire Bisson was banned from doing Senate devotions after he quoted from the Declaration of Independence and other august documents about the right to life. He never used the word “abortion” — but that one veiled reference to a hot button was apparently one too many for some senators. Rev. Bisson was firmly and immediately disinvited, for the year at least.
And now another reverend has put his foot in it. His legislative recommendation did not go unnoticed. House administrators say the devotion content crossed the line, reminders will be shared, preventive action will be taken.
The transgressing devotion followed a day-long renewable revival by the Interfaith Power & Light organization, an environmental group comprised of Vermont people of faith. It held a press conference (in conjunction with Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a/k/a VPIRG), distributed a press release to every lawmaker (“We won’t save what we don’t love”), had dozens of people wandering the State House hallways wearing climate change lapel pins, and asked friendly lawmakers to introduce them from the Floor to the rest of the House – all of the tried-and-true citizen advocacy techniques.
But standing in the House pulpit and confidently expressing divine support for the GWSA and the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon tax? That’s taking grassroots advocacy to a whole, new level.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports.