Energy & Environment

Scott administration floats a court challenge to the Global Warming Solutions Act

Susanne Young
Secretary of Administration Susanne Young is the chair of the new Vermont Climate Council, but says the Scott administration is considering a legal challenge to the Global Warming Solutions Act, the law that established the council. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The Scott administration signaled Friday that it is contemplating a legal challenge to the Global Warming Solutions Act, unless the Legislature deals with the governor’s concerns next year.

Gov. Phil Scott’s secretary of administration, Susanne Young, chairs the new 22-member commission, which met virtually on Friday. Young told the commission — whose first job is to compose a climate action plan— that the governor agrees with the goal of curbing carbon emissions laid out in the statute, but believes the law itself is unconstitutional.

“If we cannot work out our differences and our concerns with the Legislature, you know, we may have no choice except to ask for clarity from the judicial branch,” Young said.

Young said questions about the law’s constitutionality could lead to a lawsuit that could derail work to meet Vermont’s carbon emission goals.

“We need to continue to work with the Legislature to help us solve some of the issues that I believe, and that the administration believes, could make your good work vulnerable to a challenge at the end of the day,” she said. “I don’t think any of us want to put a lot of work into a commission and coming up with a climate action that’s right for Vermont, only to see it challenged because of some constitutional infirmities.” 

The Global Warming Solutions Act legally requires the state to meet targets for reducing carbon emissions in the coming years. 

Scott, a Republican, vetoed the bill in September, citing concerns about opening the state up to lawsuits. He claimed the law is unconstitutional because it delegates the governor’s authority to the climate council.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature overturned Scott’s veto, and the Global Warming Solutions Act became law.

Young’s warning is the second challenging the Global Warming Solutions Act. The first was at a press conference Sept. 29, when the governor said his administration was thinking about challenging the law on constitutional grounds.

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The statute requires the state 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.

If the government fails to meet the goals, individuals could sue the state.

In the last decade, other states — including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey — have enacted similar legislation requiring them to cut emissions in the coming decades.

In Vermont, the most recent data, from 2016, showed emissions were 13% above 1990 levels.

While the statute sets new targets for reducing emissions, it does not spell out how the state will meet them. Instead, it forms a 23-member climate council — with the governor’s secretary of administration as the chair, and members including state government officials, representatives from manufacturing, citizen experts and others — that is charged with creating a pollution reduction plan.

It’s then up to the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt new rules to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants.

The meeting on Friday was the first for climate council members. They spent three hours on introductions and going through basic information to help guide future meetings.

The next meeting is to be held in late December when council members will set guidelines for their work on a climate action plan.

The following people sit on the 23-member.

The governor’s representatives consist of Young as chair; Julie Moore, the secretary of Agency of Natural Resources; Anson Tebbetts, who heads the Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets; Lindsay Kurrle, Agency of Commerce and Community Development secretary; Sean Brown, the commissioner of Department of Children for Families; Joe Flynn, the secretary of the Agency of Transportation;  Erica Bornemann, of the Department of Public Safety; June Tierney, commissioner of the Department of Public Service.

The Senate’s picks to sit on the climate council are: Abbie Corse of the Corse Farm Dairy; Chad Farrell, founder and chief executive of Encore Renewable Energy; Jared Duval, the executive director for Energy Action Network; Kelly Klein, founder and chief executive officer  of Groennfell Meadery and Havoc Mead; Lauren Oates, of The Nature Conservancy; Sophia Clark, a 17-year-old  of Hyde Park who sits on the committee to represent the youth; and Sue Minter, the executive director of Capstone Community Action.

The council is rounded out by eight members chosen by the Vermont House of Representatives. Those members are:
Adam Knudsen, of the energy storage company Dynapower; Catherine Dimitruk, of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission; Chris Campany, of the Windham Regional Commission; Johanna Miller, of the Vermont Natural Resources Council; Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, the state climatologist for Vermont and a professor of climate at the University of Vermont; Michael Schmell, of the heating and fuel business Junction Fuels; Liz Miller, of Green Mountain Power; and Richard Cowart, of the Regulatory Assistance Project.

More information about the council can be found here.

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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