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Every week, Vermont Public's politics team provides a succinct breakdown of some of the biggest issues at the Statehouse.

Capitol Recap: Checking in on climate and environment in the Legislature

A mountain with clouds above and trees in the foreground
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Lawmakers this week wrapped up crossover. So what environment and climate bills made the deadline?

This Friday marks the end of crossover in Vermont’s Legislature. That’s the deadline for bills to get out of their committees in time for lawmakers to get them to the next chamber this year.

It’s when you start to get a sense for what’s going to get done this session — and what’s going to fall by the wayside.

This year, the environment has been a big focus in the Statehouse. So what climate bills made it past crossover and which ones didn’t?

Big trends for the session

When it comes to cutting climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the big focus this session has been on emissions from heating buildings.

That’s the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont, after transportation.

The Affordable Heat Act is the primary bill here. It directs the Public Utility Commission to set up and study a new program that proponents say will push the market for home heating fuels away from fossil options and towards electricity and other generally lower carbon options.

More about the Affordable Heat Act here.

Then there are a bunch of bills that really try to prepare Vermont for climate change — or at least make life here better as it happens (and it is already happening).

What are some climate bills that made the crossover deadline?

The biodiversity bill: Vermont’s commitment to 30x30 

The Community Resilience and Biodiversity Act sets a goal to permanently conserve 30% of Vermont’s land by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

Under that legislation, working forests that are managed sustainably would count as being conserved, though land that is primarily conserved through enrollment in Vermont’s current use program would not count, because that land can be withdrawn.

That’s a point of contention for Democrats and Republicans in the House, especially those representing rural parts of the state with a lot of working lands.

An overhead view of forests with mountains in the background
Ric Cengeri
A bill in the Legislature would set a goal to conserve 30% of Vermont's land by 2030.

The bill sets conservation goals and commissions a study of where land is already conserved in Vermont.

It doesn’t require landowners or towns to do more conservation.

It advanced to the Senate this week.

The Affordable Heat Act

Senate lawmakers sent the Affordable Heat Act over to their colleagues in the House well before crossover. Democrats are working hard to get it wrapped up, in hopes they’ll have time to mount an override effort if Gov. Scott vetoes the policy again.

More about the Affordable Heat Act here.


The bottle bill

House lawmakers are set to vote next week on what would be the biggest expansion of Vermont’s bottle deposit law in decades — an update environmental advocates are supportive of. That made the crossover deadline.

More fromVermont Public: Lawmakers mull biggest expansion of Vermont's bottle deposit law in decades

There’s a bill that gets the ball rolling on divesting much of state pension funds from fossil fuels. And some updates to rebates and incentives for things like electric vehicles and home weatherization.

What are some environmental bills that made the crossover deadline?

Chemical contaminants

Just recently the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to aggressively regulate so-called “forever” chemicals, or PFAS in public drinking water.

For some of these manufactured chemicals, the EPA has effectively said no level of exposure is safe. And here’s the catch: they’re all over the place and they never break down in the environment.

They’re used for waterproofing, stain proofing and fire resistance, so they’re in a lot of manufactured goods.

A skier on slopes
Chandler Burgess
Associated Press/Killington Resort

Senate lawmakers have a bill that really aims to stop a slate of PFAS from getting into Vermont. The bill includes a phased ban on those PFAS in most textiles, including ski jackets and in artificial turf — where they can run off into nearby waterways.

More fromVermont Public:The EPA is taking steps to regulate toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water. What does that mean for Vermont?

If this bill becomes law, Vermont willlikely be the first state to ban PFAS and phthalates in menstrual products. Advocates and many regulators say this sort of policy move is really Vermont’s best shot at reducing our exposure to these chemicals.

That bill just barely made the crossover deadline.

Then there’s also a bill lawmakers hope will keep more household products that contain toxic chemicals out of Vermont landfills through a manufacturer-funded collection program that’s similar to what Vermont does now for batteries.

Robert L. Johnson
Cornell University,

Restricting the use of pesticides to treat invasive species in lakes and ponds

A House bill that would study when and how Vermont uses pesticides to control invasive species like Eurasian milfoil in lakes and ponds made the crossover deadline.

The bill creates a committee to do a sort of cost-benefit analysis of how impactful the pesticides are for human health and the environment, versus how effective they are compared with alternative means of controlling aquatic nuisances. The report is due back ahead of the next Legislative session.

An earlier version of the bill included a moratorium on using pesticides to control aquatic nuisances (with some exceptions) until the study was completed. The bill was softened after lawmakers in the House Committee on Energy and Environment heard testimony from some Vermont residents concerned about a moratorium.

What are some bills that did not make the crossover deadline?

At the start of the session, lawmakers and advocates were talking about updating Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard, which pushes Vermont’s electric sector towards more renewable resources over time.

That’s now looking like it’s going to be a multi-year process.

There are a host of bills here that didn’t make crossover — some that would push Vermont to go further in sourcing 100% of our electricity from renewable or carbon-free sources, though they differed on how aggressively they favor in-state renewables as opposed to out-of-state or regional renewables.

More fromBrave Little State: How much does Vermont's power grid depend on fossil fuels?

There was another bill that would prohibit any new natural gas pipelines from being built and would endeavor to reduce electric bills for people with low incomes, among other things.

There was also a bill supporting network geothermal and another that called for protecting river corridors from new development, and another that proposed steeper protections for Vermont’s wetlands.

But the biennium is young, and lawmakers can still get work done on those bills to prep them for next session.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Corrected: March 28, 2023 at 5:03 PM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the aquatic pesticides bill included a temporary moratorium on using pesticides to control aquatic nuisances. The story has been corrected.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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