MONTPELIER -- The Vermont House of Representatives has voted to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of climate change legislation designed to set and enforce carbon emissions targets, and establish an appointed climate council to set policy.
By a 103-47 roll call vote Thursday, the House overrode Scott’s veto of H. 688, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Scott vetoed the bill late Tuesday, citing the potential cost of litigation against the state -- which the bill allows -- and questions about the constitutionality of the climate council, a 23-member board to be appointed by Scott and the Legislature.
The Global Warming Solutions Act has been a top priority for the Democrat-controlled Legislature this year, as lawmakers said the state has fallen behind on controlling emissions and can no longer wait for a plan. It now moves to the state Senate, where it passed in June by a 22-6 vote.
The bill, which was originally passed by the House in February and by the Senate in June, establishes emissions reduction targets of 26 percent from 2005 levels for 2025, 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. It allows citizens to sue the state for failure to meet those goals.
The bill also establishes a climate council, with membership representing various stakeholders and state agencies. That council has until next July 1 to establish a Vermont Climate Plan, and has the power to recommend legislation to the Legislature.
Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, a co-sponsor of the bill, said concerns that the climate council represents an abdication of responsibility is only true if the Legislature fails to do its job going forward.
“This bill is not a big bogeyman. This bill brings technical and relevant people together to create a plan,” Sibilia said. “I hope we are planning to do our job and follow the implementation of this plan.”
Of Scott’s veto, Sibilia said “I am a big fan of our governor. He is wrong. Please join me and vote to override.”
Mark Higley, R-Lowell, a member of the Energy and Technology Committee, began the debate by referring to Scott’s letter to legislative leaders on August 12, saying there was no discussion of Scott’s concerns before the committee. He said Scott’s concern about the costs of lawsuits “ isn’t just a fantasy, this is something could and will happen.”
House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, R-Poutney, said she could not vote for a bill that undermines the Legislature’s authority.
“I cannot support this bill with this language in it,” she said of the climate council provision.
Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, a bill co-sponsor, said some of Scott’s recommendations were added to the bill, including the inclusion of the Secretary of Natural Resources as chair of the climate council.
Briglin also addressed the question of lawsuits.
”I think there’s a good deal of confusion, even hyperbole, about this particular issue," Briglin said. “What I want to be clear about is the state can be sued by a citizen at any time. There’s nothing unique about the state being sued at any time.”
Briglin noted that in Massachusetts, which passed a similar bill more than a decade ago, a lawsuit was brought against the Commonwealth despite the lack of a “cause of action” section, which the Vermont bill has.
The cause of action section in the Vermont bill gets around the problems Massachusetts faced because it’s “focused and narrowing” in limiting lawsuits to the state's failure to meet deadlines and measurable targets, Briglin said.
Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at email@example.com.