Editor's note: This commentary is by Rep. Laura Sibilia, an independent who represents the Windham-Bennington district in the Vermont House of Representatives.
This past February the Vermont House of Representatives passed the Global Warming Solutions Act with tripartisan support 105-37. In June, the Vermont Senate passed it, also with tripartisan support 23-5. The vote margin and nonpartisan nature of the vote may have surprised some, but what it revealed about the Vermont government gave me hope. Vermont legislators across the political spectrum and from all corners of our state understand and agree that Vermont’s residents, businesses, economy, and environment are already bearing the effects of climate change, and those effects will continue to intensify in the future. And my colleagues knew, we don’t yet have a plan to protect Vermont. And so, they voted to take action.
The bill requires putting in place adaptation measures to ensure that Vermont’s communities, infrastructure, and economy are better prepared for and resilient to the impacts of climate change. H.688 highlights the unique needs of rural areas and their vulnerable infrastructure, economies, and emergency preparedness in the face of increasingly severe and frequent weather events.
Delay in implementing climate solutions, whether strategies to reduce carbon emissions or enhance resiliency and preparedness, is costly. There are economic consequences for inaction. Other states and countries are bracing their communities for climate change. They are transforming their energy, transportation, and communications infrastructure. As the pace of climate change and climate change adaptation increases, so will the economic consequences to those who choose not to adapt.
The Global Warming Solutions Act does three things to protect Vermonters: first, it creates a council chaired by the governor’s secretary of Administration. Second, it requires the council to publicly build a plan to meet emissions reductions goals and increase resiliency to better protect Vermonters. Third, it requires that plan to be implemented by the governor’s administration.
As is often the case when transformative action is taken, special interests have created some confusion about two aspects of the bill, resulting in understandable concerns from some Vermonters. The special interests still fighting this bill want you to believe that somehow the Legislature is abdicating its authority to an unelected group that will assume power over all of Vermont’s environmental and climate policies. This is patently false. The Legislature retains the power to object to any new rule-making and the power to appropriate funds to implement a climate plan. Of course, lawmakers can also pass a law at any time to affect the work and direction of the Climate Council and the climate plan.
The second smokescreen thrown out by opponents of the bill is that the state will be subject to costly legal action because of the bill’s requirements. Not quite. H.688 acknowledges that a citizen may sue the state for failing to address the requirements of the law, but it presents a very focused set of remedies a court may impose if a judge agrees. No monetary damages or fines are allowed. Instead, H.688 allows a judge to order the state to comply with the deadlines in the law or to craft new policy to meet the law’s requirements. Appealing to the courts is a right citizens have to protect against legislative overreach or administrative failure to enforce the law. It is how we hold our government accountable.
When presenting this bill to legislators, a colleague of mine said, “just as hope is not a strategy, neither is fear.” We have a crisis looming before Vermont, and we are rolling up our sleeves and taking action. The Global Warming Solutions Act is supported by Republicans, Democrats, independents, and Progressives because it is a thoughtful planning and government accountability strategy to protect Vermonters and our state’s future.