The Scott administration is trying to push back by 25 years the date the state could be sued if it doesn’t meet emissions reductions mandated in a major Democratic climate change bill.
The bill, H.688, would require the state to come up with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution 26% below 2005 levels by 2025 — just over 22% below present levels. Emissions would need to be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by mid-century.
Julie Moore, secretary of the state Agency of Natural Resources, told members of the House Energy and Technology Committee Tuesday afternoon that citizens should not be allowed to sue the state over emissions reductions until after that 2050 deadline.
“By the time we sort of get through the planning process and the rulemaking process, we’re literally within probably two years if not less from that first deadline,” she said. “And so our ability to demonstrate those sorts of results in that timeframe, I think, is going to be extremely limited.”
She stressed that the administration also wants to see “significant” emissions reductions, but feels those will ramp up over time once new programs are put in place, similar to the state’s clean water efforts.
“I think our experience in the clean water space shows that as soon as litigation is launched, it introduces enough uncertainty that many people are unwilling to make the investments regardless of how … common sense and straightforward they might be,” she said, referring to the 2008 Conservation Law Foundation lawsuit over the state’s Lake Champlain cleanup plan.
Rep. Timothy Briglin, D-Thetford, chair of House Energy and Technology, told Moore that many of the administration’s proposed changes align with his committee’s current version of the bill.
However, he expressed strong reservations about pushing back the date when people could sue the state over emissions reductions.
“Because I would say this is one of the pillars of our bill and not actually having a cause of action in that area until 2050 is a significant difference,” he said.
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Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, while appreciative of the governor agreeing that the state needs emissions reductions requirements, called the proposed pushback of the date as a “non-starter.”
“What’s the point of doing it?” she said in an interview Wednesday. “What will actually require us to make the tough decisions when it comes down to needing to adopt regulations or needing to appropriate money?”
If passed, H.688 would create a climate action panel made up of state government officials and citizen experts who would come up with a pollution reduction plan by Dec. 1, 2021. Included in the plan would be guidance for the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt rules to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants by the following year.
Under the bill, citizens who sue the state would have to prove that inadequate rules written by ANR, not other factors, had been a “substantial” reason why emissions had not been reduced.
Vermont’s greenhouse gas pollution went down slightly in 2016 for the first time in five years, per the latest available data put out earlier this month by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. But emissions are still 13% above 1990 levels.
Reducing emissions by almost a quarter over the next five years, officials estimate, is achievable. The state Department of Environmental Conservation in its latest emissions inventory projects that by 2026, pollution will drop 22% below 2005 levels, though that comes with the caveat that “future conditions are difficult to predict as they are prone to many uncertainties.”
Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, a member of the committee, stressed before casting a no vote that she hopes the bill can be modified in a way she can support it.
“My biggest concern is the ceding of our authority and frankly responsibility as elected officials to the executive branch, regardless of who the executive branch is,” she told fellow Republican lawmakers during their Tuesday caucus.
Briglin stressed multiple times during the committee’s discussion that the Agency of Natural Resources already has broad authority to regulate emissions.
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