Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have required the state to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets or face lawsuits.
Scott’s rejection of the Global Warming Solutions Act was expected given his oft-cited concern about the bill — not about its goals, which he says he supports, but the way it goes about achieving them. He asked the legislature to consider revising H.688, which seems unlikely given the rapidly approaching end of an already extended legislative session and the apparent veto-proof support the bill enjoys in both chambers.
“This, put simply, is poorly crafted legislation that would lead to bad government and expensive delays and lawsuits that would impair — not support — our emissions reductions goals,” Scott wrote in a letter to lawmakers, who vowed a swift override.
The Senate passed a revised bill 23-5 in June, and last week, the House agreed with those changes by a 102-45 vote. Despite that legislative show of strength, Scott argued he could not support the bill unless three elements were changed.
The bill would require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025; 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030; and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
If those targets are missed, the bill allows courts to require the Agency of Natural Resources to take stronger measures to meet those goals. It allows reasonable attorney fees and court costs, but does not allow the state to be hit with financial penalties. Scott opposes allowing residents to sue the state should it fail to meet its emissions targets.
The governor is also concerned about the structure of the 23-member Vermont Climate Council, which would be made up of administration officials and 15 community members. Scott claims the council raises “an unconstitutional separation of powers issue.”
Rep. Tim Briglin (D-Thetford), the chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee, has said the constitutionality of the bill was not in question, having been vetted by both legislative counsel and Attorney General T. J. Donovan, who supports the bill.
Finally, Scott argued the legislature should be required to approve any climate plan drawn up by what he called the “unelected, unaccountable Council.”
In response to Scott's last-ditch effort in August to hammer out a deal with lawmakers, the House expressed limited interest in compromise, while the Senate did not respond.
Environmental groups such as the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group have taken Scott to task for his climate record.
They note Scott vowed in 2017 to join other states in agreeing to meet the Paris Climate Accord goals after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal. That agreement calls for a 26 percent reduction from 2005 emissions by 2025. The state is not on track to hit that mark, according to the latest data.
“Governor Scott has said he’s committed to Vermont’s climate goals. He’s said we need a plan to meet those goals. Will he sign the bill that puts those words into action?” VPRIG tweeted Monday.
After receiving their answer, Ben Edgerly Walsh, VPIRG's climate and energy program director, called the governor's move "ridiculous."
"Today’s veto of the Solutions Act makes it abundantly clear that Gov. Scott has no intention of walking the walk when it comes to the climate crisis," Walsh wrote in a statement.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) also blasted Scott's veto Tuesday evening.
"Once again, we unfortunately see all talk and no action from the Executive Branch," Johnson wrote. "Four years into his term as Governor, Vermont still lacks a strategy to prepare for and address climate change."
Scott tried to turn that critique around, arguing that the bill, not his administration, would be responsible for making it harder for the state to meet those climate goals.
“We simply do not have time for this sort of delay, or taxpayer money or state resources, to waste on attorneys’ fees and avoidable lawsuits that divert time and money from addressing climate change,” Scott wrote.
But Johnson vowed "prompt action" to override the veto.
“Vermont must take strong and immediate action to prepare our state and our people for the climate crisis," Johnson wrote. "The Global Warming Solutions Act ensures accountability and resiliency for our future. Climate change is real and the climate crisis is here."