Shumlin vetoes renewable energy bill; override possible
MONTPELIER >> Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday vetoed a bill designed to give local communities more say in the siting of wind and solar power projects, saying he objected to strict limits it placed on sound emanating from wind turbines, among other issues.
Lawmakers are expected to return to Montpelier on Thursday to debate whether to override the veto.
It means the stage is set for another showdown in a long-running fight between renewable energy supporters who say fossil-fuel-free wind and solar power are keys to addressing climate change and some residents and activists who see them as a blight on the landscape and, in wind's case, a source of sleep-depriving and health-damaging noise.
"We're drafting language in cooperation with legislative leadership that will fix all four problems and keep the integrity of the original bill — it's a great bill, giving communities more say in the siting process," Shumlin said in an interview with The Associated Press.
But fixing the bill might not be a simple process.
House Clerk William Magill said legislative rules require lawmakers in a veto session to vote simply on whether to override a governor's veto. If they do so, the bill stands as it passed in the waning hours of the regular session last month. If they don't, it dies, by virtue of the governor's veto.
Since the measure was a Senate bill, that body will vote first on whether to override. If the Senate chooses to override the bill, only then does the House get to vote on the question.
Magill said majority Democrats could try to win a series of suspensions of legislative rules to draft and pass a separate bill containing portions of the energy bill that are agreed upon and removing those that drew the governor's ire.
Rules suspensions — which take a two-thirds vote — usually require the cooperation of the Republicans who hold 53 of the 150 seats in the House. And House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said his caucus would not vote to suspend the rules.
Passing legislation without suspending the rules would be a three- or four-day process with lawmakers racking up hotel and meal bills.
"If the governor and speaker (House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown) want to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars to pass a do-nothing bill, it will help us (Republicans) during the campaign process, I believe," Turner said.
Shumlin said he supported the crux of the bill — giving towns and regional planning commissions more say in the siting of energy projects, providing they incorporate energy into their local and regional planning.
But he objected to the tighter standards for sound from wind turbines. The standards effectively would "make Vermont the first state in the country to declare a public health emergency around wind energy, without peer-reviewed science backing that assertion up," the governor said in his veto message.
And he voiced other objections, including language on solar energy that he said could create a problem with deeds when properties are sold, and a lack of funding for regional planning commissions to do new energy planning work.
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