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Vt. lawmakers prepare to override Scott’s veto of climate change bill

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 6:24 PM EDT|Updated: May. 9, 2022 at 7:17 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers are preparing to vote to override the governor’s veto on a major climate bill.

The Clean Heat Standard aims to disincentivize fossil fuels for home heating. Those makeup about 30% of our greenhouse gasses.

But last week, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill.

Monday, a gathering in Stowe of an annual meeting of more than 200 businesses specializing in gas, propane and home heating fuels included a briefing from industry insiders and a discussion about what a sweeping climate bill could mean for them and their customers.

The Clean Heat Standard-- the idea is to make it more expensive over time to buy and sell fossil fuel-based forms of home heating.

It’s the centerpiece of Vermont’s climate action plan aimed at reducing home heating energy consumption.

“It’s a performance standard in which heating oil and propane companies and their customers will pay more to other companies that do things the government wants them to do-- weatherization, wood pellets, biodiesel,” said Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

Governor Scott vetoed the bill last week, saying that it gives the regulatory Public Utility Commission too much rulemaking authority.

If lawmakers override the veto and it becomes law, Cota says it will affect fuel dealers differently. He says some big dealers will be able to make the switch to providing more eco-friendly forms of home heating and smaller ones will be forced out of business.

And he says that means some Vermonters will lose the ability to choose who they purchase from.

Supporters of the Clean Heat Standard say the perils posed by climate change are too great to not act.

“We no longer are in a world where we get to choose between climate action and the status quo. Both morally and legally we have an obligation to act,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

If the veto is sustained, some worry Vermont will miss its greenhouse gas reduction goals. And a lawsuit would force the state to act.

“Door number one isn’t great but door number two isn’t either,” Cota said.

Under Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Vermont has to reduce pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore says Vermont appears on track to meet the 2025 goals, but the 2030 targets-- less so.

If Vermont fails, the state could be forced through the courts to enact new regulations to knock down pollution.

“We know that regulatory approaches are less cost-effective and less equitable than the types of incentive programs that are contemplated through the Clean Heat Standard and hope not to get to that point,” Moore said.

With Vermont in an ongoing effort to grow our population and reverse demographic trends, Cota is less optimistic.

“If we want to reduce emissions by 40 percent by the end of the decade and cold climate heat pumps and biomass and biofuels will help reduce that, but 40 percent is a pretty heavy lift. “If we increase our population if we increase business and economic development, that only adds to the energy we’ll need. We’re setting ourselves up for failure,” he said.

Moore says Vermont could still create a Clean Heat Standard in the future and adds Vermont needs more information about how much it would cost and what impact it would have on low-income and rural Vermonters.

House lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the override Monday but they pushed it back to Tuesday.

They’ll also vote on overriding the governor’s veto on the Burlington just-cause eviction charter change then, too.

Related Stories:

Vt. lawmakers override pension reform; Scott vetoes ‘Clean Heat Standard’

City Council considers resolution to switch Burlington buildings away from fossil fuels

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