Energy & Environment

Lawmakers, administration disagree on timeline for emission reduction lawsuits

Tim Briglin
Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee, center, speaks to a meeting of the Climate Solutions Caucus at the Statehouse last year. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

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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Elizabeth Gribkoff

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Gribkoff is VTDigger's energy and environment reporter. She graduated from UVM's Environmental Studies program in 2013, receiving departmental honors for her thesis on women's farming networks in Chile and Vermont. Since graduating, Elizabeth has worked in conservation and sustainable agriculture. Most recently, she was a newsroom and reporting intern with VTDigger.

Email: [email protected]

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Don White

This is one the most irresponsible bills ever written . The majority party wishes to enslave VT citizens to the whims of their unelected lobbyist partners and essentially turn VT in to state run by oligarchs. Sounds familiar ? That how they run the government and energy policy in Russia except the forgo the lawsuits. The State of VT used to be known as a republic , this bill turns it into a dictatorship! The majority party is so drunk on power that they are literally going to try to legislate away the right of the citizens to be represented by their vote. This whole plan stinks of corruption and is blatant extortion.

Scott Beck

What business would locate to or expand in Vermont with such uncertainty in 2025?

Robert Roper

This “sue the state” provision is just an example of corrupt politicians figuring out a way to funnel tax dollars to their favored special interest groups. They set up impossible goals they know will not be met, allow VPIRG, CLF, etc. to sue the state based on that failure, and the taxpayers end up footing the bill for their legal fees. End result: the taxpayers end up paying for these special interest groups’ lawyers. Nobody genuinely looking out for the interests of the taxpayer/voter would ever sign on to such an agreement.

It’s also a way for politicians to avoid accountability for enacting policies they know their constituents do not want implemented. If achieving these goals were popular, they’d enact rules to meet them themselves in a heartbeat and ride the wave of adulation to re-election. But, they know that their constituents do not want these policies enacted, so, rather than accept the will of the voters, our politicians concoct this scheme to short-circuit democracy.

edward letourneau

This is all nonsense. People drive less when there is a recession, and more when they have jobs. Thus, the base data these fools are using is not based in any sense of reality — not to mention that fact that nothing vermont does will change the climate of the planet.

Tom Evslin

What these lawsuits would do is give legislators a way to avoid the pain of actually legislating. A suit is filed; a state agency settles saying, for example, it will make heating oil more expensive in some regulatory way. Since this is a legal settlement, it has the force of law. The suits are a bad idea now or in 2050.

Moreover, the goals in the State’s Comprehensive Energy Plan are absurd since, unlike the Kyoto treaty, the UN, or Maine, they give no credit for increased carbon sequestration thru more trees and better forestry. Creates an perverse incentive to cut down trees to install solar panels.


Kim Fried

Why not include in the legislation a provision that allows citizens, special interest groups and lobyists to sue the legislators who vote for this bill. Allowing suits against the State means the citizens of Vermont pay the bill. Great, the courts and legislators have nothing better to do??
Does someone have to remind”our” legislators that they are suppose to be looking out for the best interests of”their”citizens not the lawyers??

James T Rude

For those who don’t like the Trump phenomena of “time to drain the swamp”, just wait; with laws like this, it will soon be coming to VT sooner than you think.

Grant Reynolds

This bill would make a judge and the Vt Supreme Court the maker of rules for controlling emissions. And what rules could they, or ANR, or the legislature, make
that would slash emissions. Ban single occupancy vehicles? No car commuting over 2 miles? No internal combustion engines in cars? Who will be empowered to change our way of life, especially in 200 rural towns where long distance commuting is a way of life due to lack of local jobs.

Judith Sargent

It is absolutely wrong for Legislators to give themselves two more YEARS to even make a plan on how they are going to deal with a crisis which has been coming on us for years and years. I know some statewide efforts are underway, but seriously, the State government needs to move now and revise plans as necessary later on.

Gary Murdock

Are Vermont voters ready to veer to the right at the next fork in the road, or will they continue down the path of no return…the progressive path to the State of Chittenden.

Annette Smith

This is similar to Act 250 legislation that is being developed by the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee in what seems to be a news blackout.

Developed in a behind-closed-door deal between VNRC and the Scott Administration, numerous proposed changes to Act 250 will cede an enormous amount to the Executive Branch in what has developed into a very bad piece of legislation where anyone else’s input, interests and ideas are ignored.

Are we seeing a pattern here? Similar to what is happening on the national level?

Stuart Nelson Lindberg

I think VPIRG should demand that climate alarmist legislators pass legislation that will immediately ban all fossil fuel heating deliveries to every state building. This legislation should also include banning all fossil fuel usage in any state owned vehicle. As proof of their sincerity and determination the climate concerned legislators and lobbyists at VPIRG need to stop all fossil fuel deliveries to their homes. These people should also stop driving any fossil fuel powered vehicles including electric vehicles, which are charged by fossil fuel powered generating plants.

John McClaughry

I hope regulatory enthusiast Rep. Copeland Hanzas won’t wait any longer, but sponsor a resolution next week to bar any internal combustion vehicles from using the legislative parking areas around the State House. It’s only a healthy half mile walk from the DET parking lot, so the gasoline powered shuttle bus needs to be cancelled as well.
She could go on from there to shutting down Thunder Road.

Doug Richmond

point one; USA Today reports “Global Carbon Dioxide emissions FLAT this year”
For some readers, that means carbon dioxide measurements are NOT going up !
they report the credit goes to natural gas and NUCLEAR electric power.

Point two; Vermont trees seem to be thriving since they had adequate carbon dioxide
to use to produce the oxygen we humans so desperately need. That is the “Circle of Life”
which we elders learned in grade school – all natural, all good, all absolutely necessary!!

So now the state wants us to cut mega tons of trees to make wood pellets, or wood chips for heating.
It’s fine, but it takes away from the totally natural tree carbon dioxide eaters.

This whole Global Warming deal is just a money and power grab by agencies who
have an unending appetite for money and power, power and money.

albert sabatini

All you have to do is leave the State of Vermont and go to Florida,Texas,Maryland and take a look around to realize it is all over. We have been legislating this since the 1970’s to little to late .And that isn’t even getting into the current administration in D.C.. Sorry for the sad news.


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