Editor’s note: This commentary is by Rep. Scott Campell, D-St. Johnsbury, who is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Technology, which developed the Global Warming Solutions Act, H.688. He is a builder and consultant, and was director of CVOEO Weatherization Assistance Program for 12 years, and director of 3E Thermal, a statewide consulting and incentive program of Capstone Community Action, for 10 years.
I was disappointed to read VTDigger’s article “Scott administration floats court challenge to Global Warming Solutions Act.” The governor vetoed the bill, and his veto was overridden by greater than two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. It is now the law.
The committee I sit on, House Energy and Technology, took extensive testimony on the bill. Attorney General T.J. Donovan affirmed his belief the bill is constitutional. Legislative Council, the nonpartisan staff of attorneys who research and actually compose bills, concurred. More than 10 other states have greenhouse gas reduction requirements — not just aspirational targets. This is not a radical concept.
The governor has claimed that the Climate Council created by the law “unconstitutionally usurps” the executive branch’s role to execute the laws. He further claims the council permits the Legislature to “ignore its duty to craft policy and enact actual global warming solutions.”
In fact, the council, which includes eight heads of executive agencies and departments, creates a Climate Action Plan, which the Agency of Natural Resources and other executive agencies and departments must draft rules to execute. The executive branch is intimately involved in the process; in fact, the process cannot work unless the executive branch constructively and expeditiously participates.
The legislative branch, for its part, must vet proposed rules through the normal rule-making process, i.e., review by Legislative Council on Administrative Rules. Actually the law imposes a further requirement, beyond standard practice, that proposed rules must also be reviewed by legislative policy committees. Finally, the Legislature must approve any fees or expenditures through the normal budget and revenue bills process. As Rep. Laura Sibilia commented during House floor debate, the only way the Legislature is not involved is if its members do not do their jobs.
Lastly, the governor’s objects that the law allows “any person” to sue the state if we fail to take swift and effective action. This too is a misreading. Any person can sue the state for any reason at any time. This law actually channels both the time frame and the remedies available for lawsuits. Testimony in our committee supported the cause-of-action section as a way to limit frivolous and delaying legal challenges.
The climate crisis is real; it is here now; it is driven by industrial civilization. Vermont can’t stop it, but we are part of it. Our greenhouse gas reduction requirements will not “solve” global warming, but they will require us to take responsibility for our contribution.
It might seem impossible to focus on the climate crisis while we are nearly paralyzed by the Covid crisis. But we ignore it at our peril. We cannot afford to fritter away any more time preparing our economy, our infrastructure, and our community for the changing climate.
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Most important, while these changes are a challenge, they are also an opportunity. As with previous technological revolutions, new businesses, new jobs, and new prosperity will come from the transition to new energy sources. The governor and his administration have done an admirable job coping with the Covid crisis, and Vermont is positioned to come out of it in much better shape than other states. We could do the same with the climate crisis, if we work together.
Let’s get on with it.