The Vermont House approved legislation Wednesday that would legally mandate the state meet carbon emission reductions targets in the coming years, and allow individuals to sue the government if it fails to do so.
In a 102-45 vote, the Democratically-controlled House approved changes made to H.688 — known as the Global Warming Solutions Act — by the Senate in June and sent the legislation to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk where it faces a likely veto.
“Climate change is one of the most critical issues impacting our future,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said in a statement following its passage.
“The Global Warming Solutions Act ensures accountability and resiliency for our future. Climate change is real, the climate crisis is here, and Vermonters cannot afford to wait any longer to address it,” she said.
The climate change measure has been a top priority for the Democratic leadership in the Legislature and Wednesday’s passage marks the second time the House has voted on the proposal — aftering passing it in February on a 105-37 vote.
The Vermont Senate took until June 25 to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act with a vote of 22-6.
While the House lost three votes in the intervening months, the lower chamber still has the support needed to overcome a Scott veto.
The governor has not said definitely whether he will veto the Global Warming Solution Act, but throughout the legislative process he and his administration have signaled they are uncomfortable with the prospect of opening up the state to lawsuits if it does not meet emission goals.
The governor sent a letter to Statehouse leaders on Aug. 12, outlining his concerns. On Tuesday Scott said lawmakers had not dealt with all the issues he has with the bill.
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“They feel that they have gone as far as they can,” Scott said of the legislature’s work on the proposal. “I have some, you know, some concerns that have not been met at this point that I think are detrimental to the state.”
On the virtual House floor Wednesday, Republican House members expressed why they oppose the legislation, saying that they believe the measure should wait until Jan. 2021 and that the current focus should be on the Covid-19 economic crisis.
“While I agree global warming is real, I take issue with the means this bill uses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” House Minority Leader Patricia McCoy, R-Poultney, said Wednesday.
Rep. Felicia Leffler, R-Enosburg, did not hold back in explaining why she voted against the bill.
“The Global Warming Solutions Act presents zero solutions and abdicates the authority of the legislature,” she said.
H.688 would require 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.
While the legislation sets up new emissions reduction requirements, it does not spell out or dictate how the state will meet them. Instead, it creates a 23-member climate council — with the governor’s secretary of administration acting as the chair and consisting of state government officials, representation from the manufacturing sector, citizen experts and others, to come up with a pollution reduction plan.
It would then be up to the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt new rules to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants by the following year. And it would be up to the Legislature enact policies aimed at cutting emissions proposed by the council.
Over 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.
And as Vermont’s emissions have increased in recent years — with the most recent data from 2015 showing emissions 16% higher than 1990 levels — Democratic lawmakers made passing the Global Warming Solutions Act a priority heading into the 2020 session.
“We are hopeful that Vermont will be ready to withstand the climate change that is happening and the storms that are coming,” said lead sponsor Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, Wednesday.
“If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic of the last six months, we know hope is not a strategy and neither is fear. The climate crisis is upon us. We need to plan,” he said.
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