Scott vetoes climate bill

-A A +A

Scott vetoes climate bill

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 9:12pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott Tuesday vetoed H.688, An act relating to addressing climate change, but provided a path forward to pass a bill that achieves the stated goals without the harmful impacts of the current bill.

Governor Scott (see below) outlined three areas where the bill could be improved to earn his support, which he had previously detailed in an August 12 letter to legislative leaders, alongside proposed legislative language for which his Administration has advocated throughout the process.

“I share the Legislature’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the resilience of Vermont’s infrastructure and landscape in the face of a changing climate,” Governor Scott stated in his letter.

To prioritize the emission reductions necessary to address climate change, we need to learn the lessons of building a comprehensive clean water planH.688, as written, will lead to inefficient spending and long, costly court battles, not the tangible investments in climate-resilient infrastructure, and affordable weatherization and clean transportation options that Vermonters need,” he added.

As outlined in his letter (see below) the three primary areas his concern are:

  1. the creation of a cause of action (the ability for citizens to sue the state) which could lead to costly litigation and delay, instead of putting forward tangible solutions and actions we can take now;

  2. the structure and charge of the Vermont Climate Council (Council) presents an unconstitutional separation of powers issue; and

  3. the absence of a process ensuring the Legislature would formally vote on the Vermont Climate Action Plan (Plan) promulgated by an unelected, unaccountable Council.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson sent this statement to VBM Tuesday evening: “Today the Governor left Vermonters behind with his veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act. Once again, we unfortunately see all talk and no action from the Executive Branch. 

“Four years into his 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. Unfortunately, the Governor’s veto of this bill risks putting us further behind.

“In the early weeks of the legislative session, the Administration brought several recommendations to the House Energy & Technology Committee, all of which were carefully considered and some of which were incorporated into H.688. The Secretary of Administration was elevated to chair the bill’s Climate Council, deadlines for action were extended, and an inventory of state government programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was added to the bill. 

“The House declined to include the changes the Governor reiterated in August 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.

“Vermont must take strong and immediate action to prepare our state and our people for the climate crisis. The Global Warming Solutions Act ensures accountability and resiliency for our future. Climate change is real and the climate crisis is here. That is why the House will take prompt action to override the Governor’s veto of this bill. Vermont and Vermonters cannot afford to wait to take action on climate change.”

“Even now, as many Vermonters struggle with challenges from COVID-19, I continually hear the environment is a top priority,” said Lt. Governor David Zuckerman. “With this veto, the Governor has abdicated responsibility for our future. Keeping Vermonters safe means addressing both the health challenges at hand, as well as the health challenges in the future. We must listen to the science to keep Vermonters healthy both around COVID and on climate change.”

This follows the Governor’s vetoes of minimum wage and paid family medical leave bills earlier this year and stands in direct opposition to his three stated goals; Grow the economy; Make Vermont more affordable; and Protect the most vulnerable.

“This veto was utterly predictable, highlights Phil Scott’s rhetoric and prioritizes fossil fuel companies and carbon polluters over Vermonters and our future,” said campaign manager Megan Polyte. “Policies like the Global Warming Solutions Act are an effective tool, used by leaders and managers in the public and private arena, to align multiple sectors and agencies with a common goal. This veto makes clear Phil Scott’s lack of interest in addressing the climate crisis.”

At a recent press conference, Lt. Governor Zuckerman outlined his plans to address the climate crisis, increase employment and business opportunities in the green energy sector and reduce the financial burden on Vermonters. 

“The differences between my and the current Governor’s record on climate policy are clear. Under his administration, 500 solar jobs were lost - prior to COVID. Vermont’s commitment to fulfilling the Climate Commission’s recommendations has been woefully inadequate. He has opposed local renewables and storage. Whereas I want to move forward. I want to invest in Vermont and Vermonters. I want to create jobs in this growing industry. I want to build a better future. A stronger Vermont.”

And Attorney Genera; TJ Donovan said: 

“Climate change is real, and it is already affecting our state. The Global Warming Solutions Act, recently passed by the Vermont Legislature, tells government: When it comes to climate change, do your job. I testified in favor of this bill because it requires concrete climate action by certain deadlines. And it creates government accountability by allowing Vermonters to bring a citizen lawsuit if government fails to meet those requirements.

 The bill is constitutional. Further, the provision creating an opportunity for citizens to bring a lawsuit has limited financial exposure because there is no penalty available to plaintiffs, only attorneys’ fees. 

 Let me be clear: As Attorney General, I find this bill to be a legally sound and measured approach to tackling one of the greatest crises of our time.

 The Global Warming Solutions Act provides the public with tools to hold government accountable – and hold politicians accountable for their rhetoric and their promises. This is good policy and good governance.”

See the Governor’s full letter to the Legislature below:

 

September 15, 2020

 

The Honorable William M. MaGill

Clerk of the Vermont House of Representatives

State House

Montpelier, VT 05633

 

Dear Mr. MaGill:

 

Pursuant to Chapter II, Section 11 of the Vermont Constitution, I am returning H.688, An act relating to addressing climate change, commonly referred to as the “Global Warming Solutions Act” (GWSA), without my signature because of my objections described herein:

 

As passed, this legislation simply does not propose, or create a sustainable framework for, long-term mitigation and adaptation solutions to address climate change. As noted in my August 12 letter to Speaker Johnson, Senate President Pro Tem Ashe, and Committee Chairs Briglin and Bray, I share the Legislature’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the resilience of Vermont’s infrastructure and landscape in the face of a changing climate. In that same letter, I outlined three specific concerns with this bill and resubmitted changes to address these concerns and create a path forward.

 

To reiterate what I have shared publicly, and my Administration has shared with the Committees of Jurisdiction and Legislative Leadership, the three primary areas of concern that I have with H.688 are as follows:

 

  1. the creation of a cause of action which could lead to costly litigation and delay, instead of putting forward tangible solutions and actions we can take now;

  2. the structure and charge of the Vermont Climate Council (Council) presents an unconstitutional separation of powers issue; and

  3. the absence of a process ensuring the Legislature would formally vote on the Vermont Climate Action Plan (Plan) promulgated by an unelected, unaccountable Council.

 

This, put simply, is poorly crafted legislation that would lead to bad government and expensive delays and lawsuits that would impair – not support – our emissions reductions goals. And it is unconstitutional – with the Legislature ignoring its duty to craft policy and enact actual global warming solutions on one hand and unconstitutionally usurping the Executive Branch role to execute the laws on the other. Unlike other boards and commissions, this Council would be constructed in a way that allows them to require action without the consensus or participation of the Executive Branch. Not just a majority, but a quorum of the body is composed of Legislative  appointees and the Executive Branch rulemaking function, which “shall” be performed under the “guidance” of the Council, is relegated to a ministerial act to codify the Council’s Plan. The Council’s plan would not need to be passed by both houses of the Legislature, nor presented to the Governor for approval.  

 

I have also consistently, and repeatedly, noted that our recent work on a comprehensive clean water plan is a proven model. The most valuable lesson of our clean water approach is that, with careful work, tied to specific outcomes, we can develop, fund, and implement a plan that has both positive economic and environmental results. H.688 does not follow this model.

 

More specifically, our work on clean water included carefully inventorying what we were already doing, identifying where gaps existed and what needs to be done, honestly estimating costs, and putting in place a funding strategy that we can demonstrate is both affordable and sustainable for Vermonters. 

 

We should use this model for climate change work from the start – not after costly litigation. Because, 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. 

 

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? To send the state back to the drawing board. Again, no solutions. 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 and money from addressing climate change.

 

The legal, policy, modeling, and research necessary to develop the statutory, budget, management, and regulatory proposals the plan envisions, in the timeframe set, will require significant staffing and resources – work and positions that have not been funded by the Legislature. I recognize the House has included some onetime funding in its version of the FY21 budget, but this is onetime funding and it is unlikely to be sufficient. There are also no guarantees a final budget will include those resources. Given the Senate previously removed funding for this legislation and the House concurred with those changes, passage of the proper funding seems uncertain at best. 

 

To prioritize the emission reductions necessary to address climate change, we need to learn the lessons of building a comprehensive clean water plan. H.688, as written, will lead to inefficient spending and long, costly court battles, not the tangible investments in climate-resilient infrastructure, and affordable weatherization and clean transportation options that Vermonters need.

 

In January, I proposed applying a portion of the revenues from the efficiency charge toward electrification of the transportation sector, our largest contributor to global warming. This month, the Legislature passed S.337, An act relating to energy efficiency entities and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the thermal energy and transportation sectors. S.337 is consistent with that direction, as well as with strategic goals in Vermont’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan and the goals of the Climate Action Commission. This bill exemplifies the type of practical and concrete solutions we need and can implement without additional costs to Vermonters.

 

These are the types of measures that have immediate impact on fighting global warming.

 

While I am vetoing H.688, I hope the Legislature will revisit it before it adjourns, or at the very least in January, using my input and what we have learned from our clean water work to make it better.  

 

In the meantime, I will ask that the Legislature send me S.337 forthwith so we can take a valuable step forward.

 

Sincerely,

 

Philip B. Scott

Governor