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Governor's veto kills climate control bill

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MONTPELIER — Local House Democrats voiced disappointment on Tuesday at not being able to muster enough votes to override Gov. James Douglas’s veto of H.520, the so-called climate control bill.

The Legislature convened in special session on July 11 to consider overrides of Douglas’s vetoes of H.520 and a campaign finance reform measure.

With 147 House members present, H.520 supporters needed 98 votes to override Douglas’s veto. But in the end, only 86 House members backed the override in a vote split largely along party lines.

As the Addison Independent went to press, the Senate was working on a new version of the bill that would have taken out one of its more controversial components — a proposed $25 million tax on Vermont Yankee that would have helped pay for energy efficiency improvements to Vermonters’ homes. Douglas said he was not in favor of that new tax, which would have expired in four years.

Douglas instead suggested a host of other programs — including energy credits for businesses — as alternatives, programs that critics have charged are too weak to make any measurable difference.

Rep. Steve Maier, D-Middlebury, was among those House members who spoke in favor of overriding the veto before the final vote. He noted the dangers that climate change could pose to Vermont’s skiing and maple syrup industries, but said those issues pale in comparison to the impacts global warming could have globally. He pointed to estimates that rising waters brought on by global warming could displace 100 million to 200 million impoverished people in coastal areas of Third World countries.

“It is a moral issue with global proportions,� Maier said. “We are obliged morally to do what we can do.�

But Maier took heart in the fact that around 500 Vermonters showed up at the Statehouse on Tuesday to urge support of the override. That showing, Maier said, is likely to give momentum to climate control legislation in the future.

Noted environmentalist, author and Middlebury College scholar in residence Bill McKibben was one of the 500 Vermonters who showed up at the Statehouse on Tuesday to lobby in favor of H.520.

McKibben said he was pleased with the turnout, but disappointed that H.520 will not be signed into law. He put the blame at the feet of Douglas.

“I think the lesson people are taking home is Jim Douglas is the cork in the bottle,� McKibben said of the state’s inability this year to pass a sweeping climate control bill.

He acknowledged that Douglas has proposed his own initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases, but said the governor’s ideas don’t go far enough.

“The guy talks a good game,� said McKibben, who added he and other H.520 supporters were unable to get a meeting with Douglas on Tuesday morning because the governor was too busy. “But given a chance to do something about (global warming), he chooses not to. As far as this issue is concerned, I think Jim Douglas is all talk.�

Soon after the House vote, Douglas issued a statement reiterating steps his cabinet would take to reduce global warming. Those plans call for:

• Technical Assistance. The Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) will report on how best to assist those interested in developing renewable energy projects in dealing with the regulatory process.

• The Agency of Administration and DPS to formulate a recommendation to meet the goal of creating a fair and predictable tax in lieu of the non-residential property tax for wind facilities while ensuring that there will be no negative impact on the state’s education fund.

• The DPS and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to provide a recommendation for a simple, predictable, and environmentally sound process for issuing a certificate of public good for mini-hydroelectric projects.

• The Agency of Human Services to work with stakeholders to create a five-year strategic plan to improve the comfort, safety and affordability of low-income housing and to reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas generation in that housing.

“While we are already a national leader in energy conservation and efficiency and our emissions are a tiny fraction of those emitted by other states, we will continue to do more to combat climate change in a way that protects and improves our economic environment,� Douglas said in his statement.

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