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Gov. Scott vetoes climate change bill

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott on Friday vetoed the clean heat standard, which is widely viewed as the largest climate change bill of the session.

On Tuesday the Vermont House failed to override the veto.

The bill, H.715, was designed to dramatically reform Vermont’s heat sector, which is responsible for more than a third of the state’s emissions. It was one of the most significant recommendations to come out of the Climate Action Plan, published in December, which outlined ways the state can curb emissions and meet legally mandated reduction targets.

In his veto letter to lawmakers, Scott cited concerns about the potential financial impacts of the clean heat standard, which would have incentivized a shift away from fossil fuel heat. Lawmakers had proposed charging the state’s Public Utility Commission with drawing up and implementing the full policy.

Scott said he wanted that policy to be run back through the Legislature before being implemented.

“I have clearly, repeatedly, and respectfully asked the Legislature to include language that would require the policy and costs to come back to the General Assembly in bill form so it could be transparently debated with all the details before any potential burden is imposed,” Scott wrote to lawmakers. “This is how lawmaking and governing is supposed to work and what Vermonters expect, deserve and have a right to receive.”

Lawmakers in the House supported the bill in a 96-44 vote with nine members absent. But on Tuesday, the House voted 99-51 to reinstate the bill, but that failed to meet the two-thirds majority required. Locally, only Reps. Harvey Smith of New Haven and Terry Norris of Shoreham voted against the override.

“The Governor’s veto of Clean Heat clearly shows that he is not committed to meeting the challenges of climate change, and the impact it will have on our state,” House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, wrote in a statement. “It is especially frustrating, given that we worked with his administration to add language to the bill that addressed his concerns in the spirit of collaboration and compromise.”

Scott also vetoed the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2020.

As passed out of the Senate, the bill included a “check back” amendment, which would require the Public Utility Commission to report to the Legislature in both February 2023 and January 2024, when its members know more about, for example, how the program impacts ratepayers and reduces fossil fuel use.

In his letter to lawmakers, Scott called the amendment “inadequate.”

The 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act mandates that Vermont reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with deadlines in 2025, 2030 and 2050, or face potential legal action. Climate scientists and state officials were not confident Vermont would meet its first deadline before the veto.

Jared Duval, a member of the Vermont Climate Council, said it’s “much less likely” Vermont would meet the 2025 requirement without the clean heat standard.

“What I am nearly certain of is that I do not see a way forward for Vermont to meet its 2030 requirement without the clean heat standard,” he said. While he spoke as a member of the climate council, Duval is separately the executive director of the Energy Action Network, a group that conducts tracking and analysis of Vermont’s emissions.

Given that agencies within Scott’s administration could be ordered by a judge to develop rules to meet Vermont’s emission reduction requirements, Duval said he wondered whether the governor had an alternative plan.

Ben Edgerly Walsh, climate and energy program director with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said that a “surefire” way to keep fuel prices high for Vermonters is the status quo, where most Vermonters use fossil fuels, which are expensive.

According to the bill, 72% of heating sources in the state are fossil fuels, “including 43 percent from the combustion of fossil gas and propane and 29 percent from the burning of heating oil.”

“We have to get off this hamster wheel of unaffordable fossil fuels that are on this price roller coaster,” he said.

The public process for the bill is robust, he said, and would give Vermonters time to ask questions and give input.

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