Vermont lawmakers prepare to override Scott’s veto on climate change bill

MONTPELIER, Vermont (WCAX) – Vermont lawmakers are preparing to vote to override the governor’s veto on a major climate bill.

The Clean Heat Standard aims to discourage fossil fuels for home heating. These represent approximately 30% of our greenhouse gases.

But last week Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill.

On Monday, a gathering in Stowe of an annual meeting of more than 200 gas, propane and home heating fuel companies included an industry insider briefing and a discussion of what a bill climate change could mean to them and their customers.

The Clean Heat Standard – the idea is to make it more expensive over time to buy and sell fossil fuel-based forms of home heating.

It is the centerpiece of Vermont’s climate action plan to reduce energy use for home heating.

“This is a performance standard where fuel oil and propane companies and their customers will pay more to other companies doing things the government wants them to do – weatherization, wood pellets, biodiesel,” said Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

Governor Scott vetoed the bill last week, saying it gave too much regulatory power to the Utilities Regulatory Commission.

If lawmakers overturn the veto and it becomes law, Cota says some large dealerships will be able to make the switch and smaller ones will be forced out of business.

And some Vermonters will lose the ability to choose who they buy from.

But supporters say the perils posed by climate change are too great not to act.

“We are no longer in a world where we have to choose between climate action and the status quo. Morally and legally, we have an obligation to act,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

If the veto is upheld, some fear Vermont will miss its greenhouse gas reduction targets. And a lawsuit would compel the state to act.

“Door number one isn’t great, but neither is door number two,” Cota said.

Under Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Vermont must reduce pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Natural Resources Agency Secretary Julie Moore says Vermont appears to be on track to meet the 2025 goals, but the 2030 goals are off track.

If Vermont fails, the state could be forced to pass new regulations to reduce pollution.

“We know that regulatory approaches are less cost-effective and less equitable than the kinds of incentive programs envisioned under the Clean Heat Standard and hope it doesn’t come to that,” Moore said.

With Vermont in an ongoing effort to grow its population and reverse demographic trends, Cota is less optimistic.

“If we increase our population, if we increase commercial and economic development, it will only add to the energy that we will need. We are preparing for failure,” he said.

Moore says Vermont could still create a clean heat standard in the future and adds that Vermont needs more information about its cost and impact on low-income and rural Vermonters.

House lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the waiver on Monday, but pushed it back to Tuesday.

They will also vote to override the governor’s veto on changing Burlington’s eviction charter for just cause.

Related stories:

Vermont lawmakers roll back pension reform; Scott vetoes ‘clean heat standard’

City Council considering resolution to move Burlington buildings away from fossil fuels

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Teresa H. Sadler