Politics

Vermont House approves climate bill requiring state to meet emissions goals

Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Technology, has been a key backer of the Global Warming Solutions Act in the House. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The Vermont House on Thursday approved legislation that would legally mandate the state to meet strict carbon emissions reduction targets in the coming years, and open it up to lawsuits if it fails to do so. 

The legislation, H.688, known as the “Global Warming Solutions Act,” which the House gave preliminary approval in a 105-37 vote, is the result of a push from Democrats seeking to take decisive action on climate change this year.  

Under the legislation, the state would be required to come up with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Emissions would need to be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by 2050. 

“We’re long overdue on pressing forward on this issue,” said Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, the chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee. 

Thursday’s vote shows the bill has more than enough support in the House to survive a veto from Gov. Phil Scott, who has been critical of the legislation

Vermont has failed to meet previous carbon emissions goals. Under the legislation passed Thursday, missing the new targets could result in the state being sued, and directed by a court to take further action. 

Supporters of the bill say opening the state up to legal action, and allowing the public to hold the government accountable for meeting the emissions requirements, is essential to ensuring the state follows through on efforts to address climate change. 

“The Global Warming Solutions Act approved today ensures we are holding the state accountable for developing and achieving greenhouse gas reduction goals that address the severity and urgency of the climate crisis,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said Thursday. 

In the last 10 years or so, other states including Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine have enacted similar legislation requiring that they cut emissions in the coming decades.

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Some Republicans, including the governor, argue the bill could lead to costly legal battles and undermine the state’s efforts to address climate change. 

But Briglin said the state could not be sued for damages. It could only be court-ordered to improve efforts to meet the emissions goals. 

The legislation does not spell out, or dictate how Vermont would meet its new emissions reductions requirements. 

Instead, it would create a climate action panel made up of state government officials and citizen experts, to 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.

During Thursday’s vote, Republicans sought to push back the date when the state could be sued for not meeting emissions goals. Rep. Robert Bancroft, R-Westford, proposed an amendment that would have removed the provision allowing the state to be sued if it doesn’t meet 2025 emissions requirements. 

The amendment failed in a voice vote on the House floor, but Republicans said they had concerns that the Agency of Natural Resources would struggle to meet its first emissions reduction deadline, which could set the state up for losses in court. 

House Minority Leader Rep. Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney, speaks during a Republican caucus on Jan. 7. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“We’re not even going to have rules promulgated until, let’s face it, January 2023, to meet a mark two years later that we don’t even know what it is going to be yet?” said House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney. 

“And then you’re going to allow people to sue you based on something that you just found out about two years ago?”

Last week, the Scott administration proposed delaying the possibility of lawsuits until 2050. 

“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,” Julie Moore, the natural resources secretary, told lawmakers last week. “And so our ability to demonstrate those sorts of results in that timeframe, I think, is going to be extremely limited.” 

Republicans also criticized the bill for giving too much authority to the executive branch when it comes to developing the plan to reduce emissions.

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, proposed an amendment that would have required the Legislature to approve the plan before it is adopted by the Agency of Natural Resources. The amendment failed, and Democrats argued that lawmakers will still have oversight over the plan. 

Briglin said the climate action panel will be required to present its work to lawmakers, and the Legislature would need to approve new spending and revenue policies, if they are part of the strategy to cut emissions. If the Legislature doesn’t like the approach the executive branch is taking, it could always pass a new law. 

Donahue still voted for the measure, hoping that aspects of the legislation she didn’t agree with could be fixed in the Senate.

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“This effort is too important to fail to move it to its next stages,” she said. 

The legislation is expected to pass on a second vote in the House on Friday. 

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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Warren Van Wyck

Yet another sugar-coated, slow-acting, economic poison pill/bill under the bromide of ‘Saving the Planet.’ Only renewable energy developers and associated ‘green’ businesses will see green (as in greenbacks) and the temperature will not change one millionth of a degree because of Vermont.

Ydnas Sedohr

Got but one thing to say about this, these bozos are the state operators. This should open them up to being personally liable when the state doesn’t meet their goals. It will be THEIR goals.
Looks like the ride down the slippery slope is not far from beginning.

Vic Noble

This is another nail in the coffin for Vermont, authored and championed by special interests to serve only themselves. Vermont Legislators lack any wisdom regarding sensible governance.

Jerome Beddet

If it means higher taxes for average to poor vermonters, weakened moral, and more government bullying, then count me in! Authoritarianism is the name of the game for us Democrats. If it feels good do it in the street. Heck, if it feels good, do it in the House!

John French

What deceptive creatures we are. the left has concocted yet another ruse to push climate change down our throats. Lets be clear… the only people that will pay for the states noncompliance of climate change will be us. since they will never meet these unrealistic goals the state will feel the need to force the tax on us as punishment because we the state defaulted on their legal agreement with us. Does that make sense? If this passes it will.

Tom Sullivan

I’m sure the lawyers at VPIRG and VNRC are celebrating, as Vermont will be unable to reach an unrealistic goal in such a short time frame.

Lawyers and elitists win, Vermont loses.

Jim Barrett

I wonder how many people in the legislature have investments in so called ..clean energy companies?? I wonder how Burlington Electric will make out while accepting thousands of trees only be burned and possibly pollute the air in the process? We are told trees are the most natural way to reduce carbon and to plant trees….different rules for different folks I guess.

Troy Morton

Will they sue me for stating that they just screwed every Vermont taxpayer forced to pay for their rush to do something NOW?

Remember the “severity and urgency” that drove this legislation this November when you vote.

If China or India fire up one new coal plant, all of these “targets” are moot and the only benefit would be to line the pockets of lawyers with our tax dollars.

Please consider me as a citizen expert candidate for the climate action panel.

My guesses are as good as yours.

Paul Tobits

Great’ now that we have wasted time on “feel good legislation” lets’ pass a bill requiring all the grass trimmings the highway department produces to be used for heating the state buildings. Better yet lets plant soybeans along our roads and produce vegetable oil for all the state trucks to run on. If Rudolph Diesel could develop his engines to run on it in 1867 then why don’t we do it now? Probably because the press doesn’t support it.

Stuart Nelson Lindberg

“Keep in mind that Vermont covers an area of less than 10,000 square miles. Vermont’s geographic area occupies 5/1000 of 1 percent of the planet’s surface. Vermont has less than 1/100th of 1 percent of the world’s population. Our population is around 620,000. The energy consumption of Vermont is the lowest of all 50 states. Since 1990, Vermont’s forests have removed more carbon dioxide than Vermonters have produced emissions.”

doug richmond

“Our representatives” have voted on a -10 degrees cold day in hell to impose impossible deadlines to fight global warming to an impossible standard.

Worse than that as the state goes flat broke, government and subject citizens, they invite lawsuits by greedy “advocates” to further enrich these maniacal goal seekers, and finish off the civilization we have worked so hard to create.

People don’t believe me, due to their youth and inexperience – in my youth in the 50’s we were taught to expect THE COMING ICE AGE, and “duck and cover” for the inevitable nuclear bombs

Always groups yelling “The Sky is Falling” but this time, this action, it is a combination of
both greed and mental imbalance.

pat hurley

two choices, stay and put up with this feel good nonsense that is mandated or get out before legislation makes you go broke

Frank Westcott

They have abdicated there there duty to legislate! An unelected appointed judge will do it for them. We will be swindled again!

John Freitag

Lately I have been reading “Strangers in their own Land” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. In this well written National Book Award Finalist, Hochschild, a University of California sociologist attempts to understand the people of Lake Charles Louisiana and paradox of their support for conservative policies which enable large chemical companies to destroy the land and life they love.
It strikes me that here in Vermont we may be doing something similar, albeit from an opposite political perspective. Impractical laws based on an emotional response to change can have the effect, as has happened in Louisiana, of harming the very land and culture we cherish.
Surely in addressing climate change in Vermont, we can do better than passing laws allowing us to sue ourselves for actions that we are unwilling to take or simply can not practically accomplish.

Kim Fried

Note these so concerned Legislators pass the buck to the State which is critical of the law. Oh and we can sue the State if they don’t meet THEIR goals, how very nice. The Legislature passes unrealistic mandated goals and walks free. Does something sound just a little strange here. Oh and don’t forget the citizens of Vermont will pay for these law suits which the developers and special interest/lobyist groups bring against the State, the same group that supports this legislation and our legislators. This is the thinking that has resulted in the horrible mess in Washington, but Vermont is just so lilly white. SHAME

Jim Christiansen

It will be interesting to see if this years legislature can legally bind a future legislature from using sovereign immunity claims in any way shape or form.

I predict a Supreme Court ruling On this issue is in our future.

Robert Gifford

Really a law requiring GHG reductions and no plan on how to do it. Brilliant! In order to meet these goals we will have to ration fuel and stop all new construction. No more New Vermonters because by law we cant have their new carbon foot prints. When the dust settles if this is passed there will be nobody living in the state but low wage workers and transient rich people. Vermont will have destroyed its economy while coal is still the dominant global fuel for electricity. We are already the greenest State. Why not bask in the glow of that for a bit and stop this nonsense?

Don White

Tim Briglin and any others who voted for this bill are selling out the entire state population to the corporate lobbyists that they serve. His committee is taking his orders from unnamed bureaucrats and lobbyists out of Washington, DC and Vermont. Why would any elected official surrender the autonomy of future votes and subscribe their constituents to live under the tyranny of unelected bureaucrats? Oops, I almost forgot. Because we are all going to die if we dont! The blind greed and deception of these bills is truly staggering. Passing laws that remove the power of the voter to change policy through their elected representative should be a red flag to all. The majority party has become so drunk with power that they now believe that the voter can not be trusted. That the citizen’s vote is no longer necessary. Only those who donate to the majority party, or are unelected , and who will financially benefit from these policies will be able to rule and dictate.

Carol R Frenier

Right on, Warren. This is an abdication by the legislature of their responsibility to legislate transparently. They can now hide behind an unelected “panel” to do what they could never get voters to support. Then they add insult to injury by making all of us subject to costly lawsuits.

Rick Cowan

Let’s think about using carrots rather than sticks to make progress. This plan will will be a bonanza for lawyers, a nightmare for taxpayers and accomplish little. Suing our own state government is not the way forward! Why not use that money for clean enrgy grants?

Grant Christiansen

This is a terrible act that has been passed by a super majority which means the Governor can not Veto the act. What GWS allows is anyone who sells fossil fuels, (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, heating oil, propane) 5 years from now will not be able to install any new heating systems that are not electric (ie oil boilers, propane boilers, furnaces).
A Giant win for the electric monopoly in Vermont.
Oil consumption in the State of Vermont has gone from 160 million in 1970 to 70 million today.

Vote these idiots in, win stupid prizes. We need to vote them out before there is no one left to vote.

https://principia-scientific.org/chemistry-expert-carbon-dioxide-cant-cause-global-warming/

Glenda Bissex

So what’s your solution, Warren? If every person, every town, every state, every country said what we do isn’t going to make a difference to the planet, there’s no hope.

Peter Yankowski

Watch the price of solar sky rocket as judges force the installation of more and more of it at an ever faster pace.

Higher and higher prices for Vermonters to pay with no measurable impact on climate change. This is going to make the $200 million that Gov. Shumlin wasted on the ill fated health care computer system look like chump change.

Instead of having climate change protestors blocking the streets, we’ll now have renewable energy developers dancing in the streets…….They just hit the lottery.

Alan Akey

It will likely end up with a lot of Vermonters having to buy new and expensive automobiles or face paying some sort of carbon surcharge. Great for the economy, just like the new state inspection system!!

Martin Dole

Have you not figured out how much fossil fuels are used to make lower emissions? How will the solar panels in 20 years be taken care of. What do we have to do to get lithium for batteries that are no good for the environment. People really we need to think about this!!

David C. Austin

This is an incredibly irresponsible piece of legislation. The effect of this if it becomes law will be to vest what is essentially legislative power and control to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. The working poor will be further impoverished by the myriad of new regulations that will occur. And all Vermonters will bear the burden of legal costs and judgements which will benenefit the special interest groups and business interests that were behind this Bill. This action is not fundamentally different from the events that led to the founding of our Country. It is now clear that we are once again dealing with a legislative body that no longer respects and understands it’s duties and responsibilities to those that it is supposed to serve. This legislation will not save the Earth. But it will increase the potential for civil unrest in an era of divisiveness and tension. And that is something that Vermont is not likely ready for.

Alan Akey

As I understand it most of Vermonts power is hydro generated in Canada. Cutting our carbon footprint would have to be with our automobiles

Tim Vincent

Interest groups and “green” developers pushing the climate warming hysteria will sue the state and the state (spending more tax dollars) will rollover and lose the case.
The tiny little state of Vermont has admitted culpability re. global warming.
Now what?
Japan is still building 22 coal-fired power plants and China and India are full speed ahead in the emissions race……and a bunch of lawyers bumped up their retirement funds.

Randall Bates

“The Vermont House on Thursday approved legislation that would legally mandate the state to meet strict carbon emissions reduction targets in coming years, and open it up to lawsuits if it fails to do so.” Yet they have no idea how they are going to meet the goals or know if it is even possible to met the goals.
There is no other way to say it. Only a fool would have voted for this legislation without having facts to back it up.

Dave Wholly

I guess we will see more people leaving this State. People are struggling to make ends meet and this may cause more people to leave.

Lee Nutting

How can you be allowed to just say we need this carbon bill, What gives you the right to do this to us Vermonters without asking what we think, The voters of the state of Vermont should be able to vote on this kind of bill, Who do you think you are, this bill will not help anyone ,I just cannot understand how you can decide our fate in Vermont.

Jon Parker

Let’s not wait around for something to happen, let’s take some initiative.
Turn down the heat in all public buildings to 45 degrees, starting with State House.
Start laying off staff, especially the school system.
Cut back on highway maintenance, and raise all traffic fines 300%.
Add a 90% tax on ski lift tickets, subsidize snowshoes and fat tire bikes
Etc.

If we all pull together we can make this work.

Jamey Berry

Sounds very expensive.
Too bad parts a labor (more labor than parts) to install a typical 15kwh (18 kWh average daily residential use in VT) solar system in VT still requires more than 12+ years to pay for itself. Still Crazy expensive upfront.

Peter Chick

Not a ton of support from footnote writers. I have to wonder just who it is these representatives represent.

Ritva Burton

Let’s see, it’s the VT legislature against “Mother Nature”. Who do you suppose will win? Who do you suppose will lose? Vermont taxpayers!

Douglas Shane

Great! Another panel to study what we already mostly know. There’s little that can be done to mitigate car emissions in our largely rural state, where distances must be driven for work and shopping.

morgan rye

Just a side thought but if the legislature wants to do something environmental why don’t the make plastic water bottles recyclable?

Mike McCorkel

If legislators write global climate laws. They should also include how their laws can be measured for results to
global climate change. If a time frame is established to implement the plan. Then a result should be shown for the effort all along the way of the plan. Non results, no more laws.
How do I know these legislators know anything about climate change? Pretty sure I was casting my vote to have them fix problems that actually exist right here within the state.

Moshe Braner

This seems as flawed as the Climate Equity Act of 2019. See here:

https://angrybearblog.com/2020/02/how-to-roast-the-planet-with-good-intentions-the-climate-equity-act.html

“The CEA was, I believe, the first concrete piece of legislation proposed as part of the Green New Deal. Unfortunately, it illustrates several of the problems with progressive idealism. The CEA is moralistic rather than strategic. It does not take policy analysis seriously; it assumes that Congress can simply write a law requiring justice and that justice will magically appear. In practice, the CEA will do little to promote justice, but it will put a powerful weapon in the hands of opponents of a clean energy transition.”

Kevin Ellis

I really want to hear from Tim Briglin on this issue and all these comments below. He is the most thoughtful legislator I know and does not take policy positions lightly. Could we get a long interview or a q and a with him to address the many concerns raised. Thanks.

Stephen Crowley

Congratulations to the VT House for passing this long overdue measure. By establishing a Climate Council to be populated by a spectrum of concerned and knowledgeable Vermonters, you’re laying the groundwork for the coming decades of response to the climate crisis. It’s not enough, of course, there will have to be more work by our elected leaders to create both carrots (VT Green New Deal!!) and sticks to make those changes happen. Providing clear starting points on rural resilience, just transition, agricultural and natural community responses, and effective mitigation, the GWSA ensures that Vermont’s response will be addressing the full range of challenges we’re going to face.

Peter Chick

just another case of, we have to pass it before we can find out how god awful this really is.

Patrick Cashman

Great, when democracy doesn’t give you the results you are looking for, short circuit it and use the courts. Wanna bet VPIRG is going to have a very large seat on this unelected body?

Terry Burdick

Remember when we had “mandated “ per student cost for education. When we could not meet them, we just changed the numbers to ones we could meet. Spinlessness is a two way street.

willem post

It is really is not a problem.

Just buy carbon offsets every time you go on a plane trip, a cruise, visit relative, go shopping, or go to work, just as Gore and Sanders are doing.

I do not yet know where to buy them.

105 to 37.

Only 37 had enough sanity to vote no.

All sorts of cockamamie schemes will surface, and get subsidized, by Perchlik’s Clean Energy Development (SLUSH) Fund

jeffrey green

The Legislature is living in an altered state. If this bill passes (as it seems)…you can mark it as a polarizing moment, when people who disagree (and have NO say at all) wake up and think ‘Enough is enough….I’m leaving”.. There will only be a further cascade of similar “feel good” bills and legislation, that appease some -who are vocal, but harm many who are silent (for now)….and, all of what they do just costs more and more money (taxes) which people don’t have.. There is a “straw”… and a “camels back”…..One more “staw” on the camels back may just do it. I see a new bumpeer sticker coming. If Bernie can plaster bumper stickers everywhere, so can others: “VT GON”….”Vermont, Get Out Now”.

Jason Pare

So when the State sues itself, who represents who and where does the money go in the win? Does the State just pay itself? Seems like a big waste of time and resources. The courts are already over worked, can we address real criminal behavior before another pipe dream?

Thomas A Bartlett III

All , these people cannot fix the huge state employees pension shortfall , but think they can save the planet. Vermont has an Affordability Crisis, not a “Climate Crisis”. What this headline should read is VASA “Vermont Affordability Solutions Act” passed the house. Their priorities are twisted..

John Freitag

Sadly there is something in this reminiscent of our pension crisis. Years ago legislatures deliberately underfunded pensions figuring better to look good now and we can let future legislatures deal with the problem we have created down the road. Well, we all know now how well that has worked out.
Surly we can do better than passing a law allow us to sue ourselves in the future for what we are either unwilling to do now or can not be accomplished.

Clarence Carpenter

This legislation is a complete joke. This is not a plan to reduce green house emissions, its a plan to pretend that they are doing something. One legislative session cannot bind future legislative sessions. If Vermont does not meet this legislation’s targets, rather than allow the state to be sued, future legislative sessions will just amend the statute to push out the dates. Does the Vermont House think we are all stupid?

 

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