The Vermont General Assembly has overturned Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a sweeping climate change bill, garnering the praise of numerous environmental groups in the Green Mountain State.
Known as the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020, the new law sets certain emission reduction mandates that previously were goals recommended by an earlier state energy plan. Now, emissions will need to be lowered by at least 26% from 2005 levels by Jan. 1, 2025; by at least 40% from 1990 levels by Jan. 1, 2030; and by at least 80% from 1990 levels by Jan. 1, 2050.
The new law also creates a Vermont Climate Council made up of nearly two dozen members representing the state, private industry and citizens that will determine how Vermont can achieve those requirements for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Among other duties, the council would draft and adopt a "Vermont Climate Action Plan" before Dec. 1, 2021, specifying the methodologies "the state shall pursue" to reach such reductions.
Scott's veto of H.688 was overturned by a vote of 22-8 in the state Senate on Sept. 22, which followed a vote of 103-47 in the state House on Sept. 17, according to a bill status website maintained by the General Assembly.
The governor had outlined his rationale for vetoing the bill in several earlier letters and news releases. One of his primary concerns, Scott had written, was that the Vermont Climate Council would usurp the governor's executive branch powers. Vermont Attorney General Thomas Donovan Jr., however, disagreed with that claim and issued a statement Sept. 15 that said that H.688 is "a legally sound and measured approach."
On Sept. 23, Scott signed into law a bill, S.337, allocating energy efficiency funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation and thermal energy sectors by increasing electrification in those areas.
"It also stands in stark contrast to H.688 which, in my view, is not constitutional and did not take immediate action to reduce emissions," Scott said in a letter to legislators.
Upon news of the veto override, a group of environmental and conservation advocates — including the Sierra Club's Vermont chapter, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Nature Conservancy in Vermont — issued a joint statement applauding the legislature's move.
"The legislature clearly recognized the economic development and equity-creating opportunity in this critical work" to counter the climate crisis, Vermont Natural Resources Council Energy and Climate Program Director Johanna Miller said in the Sept. 22 statement.