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Vt. House approves climate change bill

  • Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Technology, speaks during a House Democrat caucus at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt., on Monday, January 7, 2020. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell)

Published: 2/21/2020 10:17:38 PM
Modified: 2/21/2020 10:17:24 PM

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House on Thursday approved legislation that would legally mandate the state to meet strict carbon emissions reduction targets in the coming years, and open it up to lawsuits for failing to do so.

The legislation, HB 688, is known as the “Global Warming Solutions Act.”

The House gave the bill preliminary approval in a 105-37 vote — the result of a push from Democrats seeking to take decisive action on climate change this year.

Under the measure, the state would be required to come up with a plan 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.

“We’re long overdue on pressing forward on this issue,” said Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, the chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee.

Thursday’s vote shows the bill has more than enough support in the House to survive a veto from Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who has been critical of the legislation.

Vermont has failed to meet previous carbon emissions goals.

Under the legislation passed Thursday, missing new targets could result in the state being sued, and directed by a court to take further action.

Supporters of the bill say opening the state up to legal action, and allowing the public to hold the government accountable for meeting the emissions requirements, is essential to ensuring the state follows through on efforts to address climate change.

“The Global Warming Solutions Act approved today ensures we are holding the state accountable for developing and achieving greenhouse gas reduction goals that address the severity and urgency of the climate crisis,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

In 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.

Some Republicans, including the governor, argue the bill could lead to costly legal battles and undermine the state’s efforts to address climate change.

But Briglin said the state could not be sued for damages.

It could only be court-ordered to improve efforts to meet the emissions goals.

The legislation does not spell out, or dictate how Vermont would meet its new emissions reductions requirements.

Instead, it would create a climate action panel made up of state government officials and citizen experts, to come up with a pollution reduction plan by Dec. 1, 2021.

Included in the plan would be guidance for the state Agency of Natural Resources to adopt rules to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants by the following year.

Briglin said the climate action panel will be required to present its work to lawmakers, and the Legislature would need to approve new spending and revenue policies, if they are part of the strategy to cut emissions.

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