MONTPELIER – Gov. Phil Scott vetoed Tuesday legislation mandating Vermont reach specific carbon emissions targets, setting the stage for an attempted veto override from Vermont’s legislature.
Better known as the Global Warming Solutions Act, H.688 would have held Vermont legally liable for meeting its goals for reducing carbon emissions widely believed by climate scientists to contribute to the rapid warming of Earth’s climate.
Announcing his veto late Tuesday afternoon, Scott shared a letter he previously sent to Vermont’s legislature saying he supported the legislature’s goals in addressing climate change but argued H.688 would lead to “long, costly court battles” and distract from the state’s response to a warming climate.
“H.688, as written, will lead to inefficient spending and long, costly court battles,” Scott wrote, “not the tangible investments in climate-resilient infrastructure, and affordable weatherization and clean transportation options that Vermonters need.”
Soon after Scott announced his veto, Democratic leaders in Vermont’s legislature announced they planned to attempt an override of Scott’s veto.
Vermont’s Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, D – South Hero, said Vermont’s House of Representatives planned to “take prompt action” to override Scott’s veto, writing in a statement, “Vermont and Vermonters cannot afford to wait to take action on climate change.”
“Vermont must take strong and immediate action to prepare our state and our people for the climate crisis,” Johnson said. “The Global Warming Solutions Act ensures accountability and resiliency for our future.”
Under the Global Warming Solutions Act, Vermont would be held legally responsible for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, to 40 percent below 1990’s emissions levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 1990’s emissions levels by 2050.
Should the state be unable to reach those targets, the state could be subject to lawsuits from members of the public under the Global Warming Solutions Act.
The bill would also have established a Vermont Climate Council staffed by cabinet members, and representatives from different business and community sectors and scientists appointed by the Speaker of the House and the legislature’s Committee on Committees.
The council would be charged with ultimately drafting a climate action plan for meeting net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which would ultimately inform rulemaking by the Agency of Natural Resources.
An Agency of Natural Resources report released in January found Vermont had managed to reduce carbon emissions for the first time in several years in 2016, though those reductions still fell significantly short of the state’s emissions goals.
Scott and members of his administration have bristled at the bill’s mandating of specific reductions in carbon emissions and possibility it could spur lawsuits, concerns the legislature ultimately sidelined in favor of what some legislators called “accountability” promised by H.688.
The governor also charged the creation of a climate council as an “unconstitutional separation of powers,” due to its staffing primarily by appointees from the legislature and its mandating of subsequent rulemaking, which Scott called an “usurping of the executive branch” in his announcement.
The changes pressed for by the Scott administration, Johnson said in her statement Tuesday, “fundamentally weaken the accountability provisions in the legislation and undermine the accelerated pace for the completion of this work.”
Both the Vermont House of Representatives and the Vermont Senate approved H.688 with more than the 100 and 20 votes respectively needed to override a veto, making a successful override possible.
The Vermont House of Representatives, where H.688 passed 102-45 earlier this month, is expected to attempt an override as soon as Thursday.
Climate change, the relatively rapid warming of Earth’s climate since the Industrial Revolution, has been linked to everything from dry conditions influencing wildfires currently tracing the U.S.’s west cost to increasingly common hurricanes and tropical storms along the country’s eastern coast.
According to Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont will likely see increasingly shorter winters and harsher storm events as average temperatures continue a well-documented climb.
In his letter explaining his opposition to the Global Warming Solutions Act, Scott said he supported “practical and concrete solutions” to reducing carbon emissions, citing recent legislation earmarking $2 million to the electric vehicle and thermal energy sectors.
“This bill exemplifies the type of practical and concrete solutions we need and can implement without additional costs to Vermonters,” Scott wrote. “These are the types of measures that have immediate impact on fighting global warming.”
Scientists almost uniformly agree human activity has contributed to the warming climate, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
A comprehensive report compiled by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 concluded the world had only until 2030 to nearly halve annual carbon emissions to avoid the most dramatic impacts of climate change.