The Scott administration signaled Friday that it is contemplating a legal challenge to the Global Warming Solutions Act, unless the Legislature deals with the governor’s concerns next year.
Gov. Phil Scott’s secretary of administration, Susanne Young, chairs the new 22-member commission, which met virtually on Friday. Young told the commission — whose first job is to compose a climate action plan— that the governor agrees with the goal of curbing carbon emissions laid out in the statute, but believes the law itself is unconstitutional.
“If we cannot work out our differences and our concerns with the Legislature, you know, we may have no choice except to ask for clarity from the judicial branch,” Young said.
Young said questions about the law’s constitutionality could lead to a lawsuit that could derail work to meet Vermont’s carbon emission goals.
“We need to continue to work with the Legislature to help us solve some of the issues that I believe, and that the administration believes, could make your good work vulnerable to a challenge at the end of the day,” she said. “I don’t think any of us want to put a lot of work into a commission and coming up with a climate action that’s right for Vermont, only to see it challenged because of some constitutional infirmities.”
The Global Warming Solutions Act legally requires the state to meet targets for reducing carbon emissions in the coming years.
Scott, a Republican, vetoed the bill in September, citing concerns about opening the state up to lawsuits and saying it’s unconstitutional because it delegates the governor’s authority to the climate council. However, the Democratic-controlled Legislature quickly overturned Scott’s veto, making the Global Warming Solutions Act law.
Young’s warning is the second challenging the Global Warming Solutions Act. The first was at a press conference Sept. 29, when the governor said his administration was thinking about challenging the law on constitutional grounds.
The statute requires 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.
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If the government fails to meet these goals, the law would allow individuals to sue the state government.
In the last decade, other states — including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey — have enacted similar legislation requiring them to cut emissions in the coming decades.
In Vermont, the most recent data, from 2016, showed emissions were 13% above 1990 levels.
While the statute sets new targets for reducing emissions, it does not spell out how the state will meet them. Instead, it forms a 23-member climate council — with the governor’s secretary of administration as the chair, and members including state government officials, representatives from manufacturing, citizen experts and others — to come up with a pollution reduction plan.
It’s then up to the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt new rules to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants.
The meeting on Friday was the first for climate council members. They spent three hours on introductions and going through basic information to help guide future meetings.
The next meeting is likely to be in late December, where council members will set guidelines for their work on a climate action plan.
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