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Scott vetoes climate change accountability bill

Published: 9/15/2020 9:53:12 PM
Modified: 9/15/2020 9:53:06 PM

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the Global Warming Solutions Act on Tuesday, leaving the fate of the legislation — which would legally mandate the state meet carbon emission reductions targets in the coming years — in the hands of the Legislature.

Despite Scott’s veto, Democratic leadership in the Statehouse has the two-thirds majority needed to override the Republican’s decision and enact the bill, HB 688 — which has been a top priority in the 2020 session.

Last week, the Vermont House of Representatives voted, 102-45, in favor of the Global Warming Solutions Act. The Vermont Senate passed the bill on June 25 in a 22-8 vote.

The bill, HB 688, would require the state to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Emissions would need to be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by 2050.

If the government fails to meet these goals, the bill would also allow individuals to sue the state.

Throughout the legislative process, Scott and his administration signaled they were uncomfortable with the prospect of opening up the state to lawsuits if it does not meet emission goals.

The governor sent a letter to Statehouse leaders on Aug. 12 outlining his concerns.

“I share the Legislature’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the resilience of Vermont’s infrastructure and landscape in the face of a changing climate,” Scott said in that letter.

“H.688, as written, will lead to inefficient spending and long, costly court battles, not the tangible investments in climate-resilient infrastructure, and affordable weatherization and clean transportation options that Vermonters need,” he added.

While the legislation sets up new emissions reduction requirements, it does not spell out or dictate how the state will meet them. Instead, it creates a 23-member climate council — with the governor’s secretary of administration acting as the chair and consisting of state government officials, representation from the manufacturing sector, citizen experts and others, to come up with a pollution reduction plan.

It would then be up to the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt new rules to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants by the following year.

Over the last decade, other states including Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine have enacted similar legislation requiring that they cut emissions in the coming decades.

As Vermont’s emissions have increased in recent years — with the most recent data from 2015 showing emissions 16% higher than 1990 levels — Democratic lawmakers made passing the Global Warming Solutions Act a priority heading into the 2020 session.

Scott’s veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act joins the Republican governor’s rejections of Democratic policy priorities including increasing the minimum wage, paid family leave, a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, legislation that would establish an explicit right for Vermonters to sue polluting companies for medical monitoring costs, and others.

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