House pushes ahead on climate bill override

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MONTPELIER — One of the rallying cries for the Global Warming Solutions Act from its supporters is that "Vermont can't wait" for the climate action plan and emissions reductions the bill would require.

Indeed, it will not wait: A vote to override Gov. Phil Scott's veto of the bill, H.688, is scheduled for the state House of Representatives on Thursday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said.

Scott's override of H.688, announced Wednesday evening, was not unexpected. Scott had previously laid out his misgivings about the proposal, in public comments last week and in a letter to House and Senate leaders on August 12.

Proponents say the bill is essential for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont with mandatory targets, teeth to enforce those goals, and planning to build climate resilience and green economy jobs in the state. Opponents say the proposal will cost taxpayers in legal fees, and say the Legislature, not an appointed council, should be making climate policy.

The House will vote first on an override, and state Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, advised the chamber on Wednesday that an override vote may be held next week. The Senate passed the bill 22-6 in June.

The Legislature's rules require a two-thirds majority of members present to override a veto. If everyone in the House shows up (virtually) to vote, that's 150 lawmakers, and 100 "yes" votes would be required.

Republicans, who called upon Scott to veto the bill, have 43 members in the House — not enough to sustain a veto without help. They'd need eight more votes from Democrats, Independents and Progressives to sustain the veto.

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On Sept. 9, the bill passed 102-47, with House Speaker Mitzi Johnson not voting and Reps. Paul Lefebvre, R-Newark, and Robert Helm, R-Fair Haven, absent. It first passed the House 105-37 with six absent on February 20.

Scott's opposition to the bill is centered on the its emissions targets including a 26 percent reduction by 2025, a provision allowing residents to sue the state for failure to meet climate goals, and its establishment of an appointed 23-member climate council to make regulations.

Scott has said the climate council presents "an unconstitutional separation of powers issue," while Attorney General T.J. Donovan has said he believes the proposal is constitutional.

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In his veto letter to the Legislature, Scott said the state's adventures in reaching a structure and formula to clean up Lake Champlain and other bodies of water show what the state should and should not do.

"While our recent clean water work has been a success, the fact is it took nearly two decades to reach this point with early attempts delayed by expensive and unnecessary litigation and the uncertainty those suits created," Scott said. "H.688 as passed puts us on the same costly path the clean water work followed

from 2002 to 2016, rather than the productive work that followed. And to what end?"

"We simply do not have time for this sort of delay, or taxpayer money or state resources, to waste on attorneys' fees and avoidable lawsuits that divert time

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and money from addressing climate change."

Wednesday night, in a prepared statement, Johnson, D-South Hero, said Scott's veto showed he's "all talk and no action" on climate change.

"Four years into [Scott's] term as Governor, Vermont still lacks a strategy to prepare for and address climate change. Our most vulnerable communities and rural areas lack the resiliency needed for the climate emergency. Vermont is the only state in the northeast with higher greenhouse gas emissions than we had 30 years ago. It's time for Vermont to catch up," she said.

Johnson said the Legislature worked with the Scott Administration earlier this year on recommendations for the bill, some of which were put into place. Those include elevating the Secretary of Administration to chair the Climate Council, extending deadlines for action, and an inventory of state government programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the House declined to integrate the changes Scott suggested in August, Johnson said, "because they fundamentally weaken the accountability provisions in the legislation and undermine the accelerated pace for the completion of this work. Vermont can't afford a weak bill that will cause us to fall further behind on climate action."

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.


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