Don Turner: House GOP urges Dems to say yes again to energy siting bill

Editor's note: This commentary is by House Minority Leader Don Turner of Milton.

[W]hen the House unanimously voted to pass S.230, it was a proud moment of bipartisan consensus. We worked tirelessly to find a fair balance between renewable energy development and the concerns of local communities, regarding the health and financial implications of siting these projects in their neighborhoods.

Subsequent changes to the bill, including those suggested by Gov. Peter Shumlin at the end of the session, tilted the balance in favor of renewable energy. Nonetheless, we compromised because the final bill was a modest attempt to restore some regional and local control in renewable energy projects while addressing noise pollution by wind turbines.

This issue has been politicized as a conflict between those who promote renewable energy and those who do not. This is simply not true. House Republicans support the remarkable progress made the clean energy sector and renewable energy projects. When we voted on S.230, we were motivated – not by election season politics – but by our shared commitment to represent the people of Vermont. However, changing our vote now, after having initially supported it, would amount to playing politics.

House Republicans call on Speaker Smith to say yes again to striking a balance between renewable energy development and the genuine concerns of Vermonters, to say yes again to Bill S.230.

For the last six years, majority Democrats have exercised near-total control over the legislative process. They had enough time to deliver a meaningful bill, which advances green energy without jeopardizing the independence and health of Vermonters. Instead, all we were able to produce was compromise legislation. Therefore, the governor’s decision to kill the bill is unacceptable. Moreover, he manufactured reasons to justify the veto. In truth, S.230 does not contain restrictive language or measures against renewable projects.

First, the inadvertent omission of $300,000 in funding for regional energy planning projects can be easily corrected in the 2017 Budget Adjustment Act (BAA). Second, Shumlin falsely claims that the bill’s clause to include notices of certificates of public good (CPG) with land records will alter the liability or marketability of the property. Under case law, only the failure to properly obtain or comply with a CPG will negatively affect sale of the property.

Third, the bill states that the temporary rules should meet the standard for the adoption of emergency rules as established in 3 V.S.A. § 844(a). Invoking this statute does not mean that S.230 declares sound from wind generation as a public health emergency. In fact, the Legislature commonly uses this formulation to expedite the rule-making process, when the situation in question does not pose a public hazard. For example, a number of legislative acts related to Vermont Health Connect cite this statute. Fourth, Shumlin inaccurately asserts that the bill requires all wind projects to meet the “10 dBA above ambient” standard. S.230 clearly states that a one-size-fits-all standard is not required.

The decision to veto the bill thus has no legal or rational basis, and does not serve the best interests of Vermonters. During Thursday’s veto session, legislative rules require that lawmakers must decide to either (a) kill the bill by agreeing with Shumlin or (b) save S.230 by overriding the veto. These rules exist to protect the minority, so that the majority cannot run over the concerns of the few. No other options are available: the notion of a revised bill is a myth.

To make changes, as suggested by Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, would entail discarding the unanimously supported S.230 and then, drafting a brand new bill in one day. Political spin and misinformation in the media have blurred this simple conclusion.

On June 9, the House Republican Caucus will stand by our apolitical and bipartisan votes in support of S.230. We hope that the Speaker and our Democrat colleagues, who also voted in favor of the bill, will join us in overriding the governor’s veto. House Republicans call on Speaker Smith to say yes again to striking a balance between renewable energy development and the genuine concerns of Vermonters, to say yes again to Bill S.230.

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