Today, lawmakers are expected to vote on the Global Warming Solutions Act, which received tripartisan support in the House by a vote of 105-37. A few months later, in June (and amid the pandemic), the Senate offered its support, 23-5.
The widespread support, across party lines, gives us hope that lawmakers are thinking beyond the now toward future generations.
The act corrects our inaction. “We have had more than a decade to make significant progress on our state’s emissions goals but have failed. We need a real accountability framework that turns those goals into requirements in order to meet the demands of our time. We need to catch up to our neighbors by passing and implementing the GWSA,” wrote Heather Furman, state director for the Nature Conservancy.
In a commentary appearing on VTDigger, written by Rep. Laura Sibilia, an independent who represents the Windham-Bennington district in House, “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 Global Warming Solutions Act does three things to protect Vermonters: First, it creates a council headed 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.
Even if the bill clears the Legislature this week, there is concern that Gov. Phil Scott will veto the bill.
Critics under the golden dome and advocates outside the State House say the bill does not benefit Vermonters.
“Gov. Scott has powerful grounds for a veto. Whether two-thirds of House and Senate would vote to override his well-founded veto eight weeks before Election Day is a touchy political question,” writes John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute. “It will be seriously touchy if the governor forcefully vetoes this far-reaching but wrong-headed bill. … This final legislative action will put on record, six weeks before the election, the legislators who think they can hide in the shadows while an unaccountable bureaucracy, given broad instructions to achieve a probably impossible goal and goaded on by taxpayer-financed lawsuits, regulates and mandates 80% of Vermont’s carbon dioxide emissions out of existence. Or so they think.”
We disagree with that overstatement. We think this is the precise moment for lawmakers to send a message that this is not the time to further shirk our responsibility. When we endorsed this legislation several months ago, we called it a “reset,” and we stand by that assessment.
The bill requires ensuring that Vermont communities are better prepared for the impacts of climate change, be it infrastructure or economically. It also pushes for job creation in the green sector.
As the bills proponents note in their provided materials to legislators, “The bill will ensure we make smart investments in climate solutions that put people to work and strengthen local economies, reduce energy burdens for rural and marginalized communities, build community resilience, expand our commitment to a local agricultural economy, reduce the impacts and costs of future disasters, and restore and protect our natural and working lands. Reducing greenhouse pollution and investing in our resilience also has significant public health benefits ranging from saving lives, improving respiratory and cardiovascular health, reducing toxic exposures and boosting mental health.”
Opponents of the bill fear the state will be subject to costly legal action because of the bill’s requirements. While H.688 acknowledges that a citizen may sue the state for failing to address the requirements of the law, it presents a set of remedies a court may impose, if a judge agrees. No monetary damages or fines are allowed.
This bill is a mandate for a strong future for Vermont. And lawmakers have already shown that the support is there to move in that direction.
Climate change is an urgent public health challenge, and the pandemic has shown us that our communities are not prepared. Why wouldn’t we want to build healthy and resilient communities?
Politics can put a chill on climate-related discussions among legislators. We hope they warm up to the idea that passage sets the stage for many more prosperous and healthy tomorrows.