The Vermont House voted to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which would enforce state carbon dioxide emission reduction targets.
If it becomes law, GWSA would require the state to impose rules reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Thereafter, the state would be required to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
If the state fails to meet those targets, the bill allows individuals to sue the government to enforce the law.
Specifics Left Up to Unelected Council
Although the legislation establishes statewide emissions reduction targets, it does not specify how the state will meet them. Instead, it establishes a 23-member climate council to develop a plan to cut emissions. As specified in the bill, the council will be chaired by the governor’s secretary of administration, with other members representing a cross section of interests, including state government officials, representatives from the manufacturing sector, citizen experts and activists, and others, being appointed by the governor and the legislature.
The unelected council is charged with drafting and approving a “Vermont Climate Action Plan (VCAP)” before December 1, 2021, specifying the steps “the state shall pursue” to meet the legally mandated reductions.
Under the law Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources would be charged with adopting rules contained in the VCAP to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from various sectors by the following year.
Passage, Veto, Override
Vermont’s House holds 150 seats: 95 filled by Democrats, seven seats filled by Progressives and five seats filled by Independents. The House easily passed the bill in November by a vote of 105 in favor of the legislation to 37 opposed. The Senate failed to act on the bill before the general assembly adjourned during the Coronavirus pandemic, but took it up and passed a slightly modified version of the bill in late June. The House approved the bill as revised by the Senate by a vote of 102 in favor and 45 against, in a special session on September 9.
The governor sent a letter to the General Assembly in August outlining his concerns about the bill. In particular, Scott said the bill opens the state up to endless lawsuits, violates the constitutionally established separation of powers between the legislature and the executive, and removes accountability for the rules adopted from the legislature.
“There are three primary areas of concern that I have with the current draft of H.688: First, I believe the way the Council, as currently composed, would constitute an unconstitutional usurpation of Executive authority by the Legislature,” Scott wrote. “Second, the unrealistic timelines increase the likelihood of lawsuits [because] by the time the Agency of Natural Resources emerges from the planning and rulemaking processes, there will not be enough time to demonstrate the desired results before the first deadline.
“To avoid using taxpayer money on costly and unnecessary lawsuits, that will simultaneously slow our progress on addressing climate change, I would encourage the Legislature to remove the cause of action,” Scott wrote. “Lastly, given the weight of this effort, I believe the Legislature should review and vote on the Council’s plan, [yet there is no process to ensure] the Legislature would formally vote on the Vermont Climate Action Plan promulgated by an unelected, unaccountable Council.”
Citing the fact that the legislature addressed none of his concerns, Scott vetoed the bill on September 15.
Two days later, on September 17, by a vote of 103 in favor of overriding the veto and 47 opposed, the House overrode Scott’s veto, surpassing the two-thirds majority needed for an override.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration of whether to override Scott’s veto.
‘No Measurable Effect’
Because of Vermont’s small size, reducing the state’s carbon dioxide emissions will do nothing to prevent global climate change, said Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), who voted against the bill.
“[The carbon dioxide cuts will require] very draconian measures … [and] we have to be cognizant that we are using a tool that will not achieve global warming reduction, because [a] 50-foot hole cannot be dug with a toothpick,” Benning told the VTDigger. “We are a very small state, and a very small group of people, and if every one of us was to disappear from the planet today … the reality is we will have absolutely no measurable effect on global warming.”
‘Trojan Horse … Legislation’
Vermonters have no idea what lifestyle and economic restrictions will be forced upon them under the GWSA, said Rob Roper, president of the Vermont Policy Institute, in a commentary written before the override vote.
“The GWSA is and always has been a Trojan horse piece of legislation,” Roper said. “Its outer appearance is inviting: Let’s mandate that Vermont lower its greenhouse emissions so we can, as the name implies, ‘solve’ global warming.
“Great! But what’s inside? How do we accomplish this? What will it cost? What impact will it actually have on future climate trends? On all of these rather significant questions, the bill – and its advocates – are silent,” Roper wrote. “We’ll figure that out later after we pass it, they say! Seriously, what rational person would sign a contract like this? Sending your bank routing number to the prince of Zambia who just emailed you that you won their national lottery and he’s ready to wire you the money exhibits sounder judgement than voting for the GWSA.”
The vagueness of the bill is by design to hide its high costs, Roper says.
“[T]he lack of any plan or details is a key part of the cynical design of the GWSA,” Roper said. “If voters knew what was required to achieve the mandates the law, it would be a political non-starter.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.