MONTPELIER, Vt. – The Vermont House of Representatives has voted to override Governor Phil Scott’s veto of a climate change bill that would legally require the state to meet carbon emissions targets in the coming decade.
Governor Scott has voiced concern that H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act, would allow Vermonters to sue the State if emissions goals aren’t met. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said the bill is a necessary accountability check for the State’s climate goals.
“This bill is really about that planning and resilience, and the accountability – we are holding ourselves accountable to Vermonters,” Johnson said. “You can see from the vote that there was a lot of compromise, a lot of listening, and a lot of working across party lines.”
The House voted 103 to 47 to override the veto, and Speaker Johnson said recent events like the California wildfires have added increased urgency to the climate change discussion. She believes Governor Scott hasn’t taken enough action to mitigate potential disasters.
“Those little pieces here and there aren’t going to get us there, and we just need a comprehensive strategy,” Johnson said. “Our rural towns can’t afford another Irene. Heavy rains versus the long, slow rains that we used to get have the potential to cause a lot of economic disruption to our farms, our ski areas, tourism, our municipal sewage systems.”
If the Vermont Senate also overrides Governor Scott’s veto, the Global Warming Solutions Act would assign a 23 member Climate Council the task of finding strategies to reduce Vermont’s carbon emissions. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Robert Bancroft, feel that responsibility should be left to the Legislature.
“It divorces the responsibility of the legislators from what happens,” Rep. Bancroft said. “I think legislators have to be responsible in making decisions that are going to affect so many people in this State, depending on what mechanisms we use to achieve these goals.”
Representative Selene Colburn of the House Judiciary Committee is a sponsor of the bill, and dismissed concerns of lengthy and costly lawsuits from Vermonters under this bill if climate goals aren’t met.
“The court can essentially order the state to get back to the plan and do what it’s supposed to do, and the people who bring a case forward can be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees, that’s it,” Rep. Colburn said. “There’s no damages. Those who would bring forward frivilous lawsuits or lawsuits with no basis, the State actually has a mechanism in this bill to reclaim its costs.”
In his veto letter on Tuesday, Governor Scott outlined his concerns.
“To prioritize the emission reductions necessary to address climate change, we need to learn the lessons of building a comprehensive clean water plan,” Governor Scott said. “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,” he added.
Scott says he shares the Legislature’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but has problems with certain aspects of the bill.