Vermont lawmakers approve major climate bill; Scott veto uncertain

Vermont lawmakers have taken final action on a major climate bill that would let citizens sue the state if it fails to meet its climate goals.
Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 5:31 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2020 at 6:47 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers have taken final action on a major climate bill that would let citizens sue the state if it fails to meet its climate goals. The governor is still opposed to parts of the bill, which could tee up the first veto showdown of the virtual legislative session.

House lawmakers voted Wednesday 102 to 45 approve Senate changes and send the bill to Governor Phil Scott’s desk. The measure had been a top priority for Democrats before the pandemic sidelined the issues and drove lawmakers online.

Vermont is lagging behind New England in meeting its climate goals. “This is a way for citizens to hold leaders accountable,” said Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D- Chittenden County.

The Global Warming Solutions Act requires the state to lower its emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% below by 2050. If the state fails to meet those benchmarks, Vermonters can sue the government and try to force it to take action.

“This is not about lawyers getting paid and big payouts. There’s nothing like that in this proposal. There is a measure where citizens can say, ‘Hey Vermont, you’re falling behind on our goals to meet the Paris Agreement,’” said Sen. Pearson said.

The bill also creates a 22-member council which will come up with specific greenhouse gas reduction policies by December 2021. Pearson says those plans could include incentives for electric vehicles, carpooling, or investing in weatherization. “Before the pandemic, where many weren’t working from home, thousands of Vermonters got into their cars and commuted to work every day. Fuel-burning cars like these contribute 60% of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Governor Scott has said that the state should be investing in more electric vehicles and charging stations. “I think that’s the future -- trying to build out the infrastructure for charging as well as buying them,” Scott said.

He hasn’t said whether he’ll veto the bill, but says he remains concerned about legal costs and the potential new powers of the climate board. “That’s almost the size of the Senate. That’s unelected, unaccountable, and they’re not my picks. It just sets up conflict from the beginning,” he said.

With the pandemic still raging across the country, some critics have wondered why lawmakers are tackling the climate bill.

Pearson says the climate crisis is just as dire as the coronavirus. “There are very real economic and health implications from the climate crisis. We have to be able to deal with both and that’s just a hard fact,” he said.

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