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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: Which climate and environment bills made the crossover deadline?

A photo of a person walking by the golden dome and marble building of the Vermont Statehouse. There's snow on the ground and the sky is grey.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Lawmakers in Montpelier have been weighing environmental policies that, in some cases, would put Vermont ahead of the rest of the country.

Friday is the final deadline for “crossover” — when bills have to be voted out of committee if they are going to make it to the end of the session. There are some exceptions, but by and large, it’s a time when we start to get a clearer sense for what is going to make it to the finish line at the end of the session, and what policies are going to get left behind.

Vermont Public's All Things Considered Host Mary Williams Engisch spoke with climate and environment reporter Abagael Giles about which climate and environment bills made the cut. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Mary Williams Engisch: OK, Abagael, so what are the big issues and tensions in the Statehouse this year?

Abagael Giles: Flooding is front and center — both finding the money to help communities and individuals who are still struggling after July and December storms and planning for the next one.

And that also means climate change is front and center. Lawmakers are weighing some policies that would put Vermont out ahead of the rest of the country on a few issues this year.

As you’ve heard our colleagues report, the budget is tighter than it has been, pandemic-era spending is running out and lawmakers are trying to decide which new programs they’ll continue to support.

And interestingly, in our Statehouse, a lot of the debate over what to do about climate seems to revolve around this question of: do we invest our limited resources in fighting climate change — in helping Vermonters use less fossil fuels, or do we put as much as we can towards adapting and planning for a warmer climate? Or is there a middle ground there?

Mary Williams Engisch: OK, definitely some tension there. What were some of the big bills you’re following this year? 

Abagael Giles: I’ll start with the one that probably drew the most controversy this week — that’s the bill that would make Vermont utilities source 100% of their power from renewables by 2035, with some on an earlier timeline.

The bill also doubles the amount of new in-state renewable power they have to buy. And creates a new requirement for new regional renewables.

That bill did make the crossover deadline.

There is a big range in what people estimate it would cost.

Some environmental groups and renewable developers say less than $200 million over the next decade — the Scott administration doubled down on their view that it’s much higher than that. And the Joint Fiscal Office says probably between $150 million and $450 million.

The big unknown here is transmission upgrades.

According to [Vermont’s] grid operator (VELCO), we’re going to have to do a lot of them no matter what.

And you’re really seeing Republicans here say Vermont is doing enough in this space already, that we shouldn’t pay to reduce emissions regionally.

Democrats say: it’s all one climate, and since new renewables reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, this is about a bigger future and not getting left behind.

Mary Williams Engisch: OK, so that's to lower our emissions. Abagael, talk about adapting to climate change.

Abagael Giles: The big policy here is called the Flood Safety Act. That passed the Senate this week. It had bipartisan support.

This bill would create a statewide program to restrict new development in river corridors. It would also beef up protections for wetlands in the state, and beef up regulatory oversight of dams.

More from Vermont Public: Capitol Recap: Vermont lawmakers' new Flood Safety Act wants to bolster rivers, wetlands as natural mitigation

Republicans and several Democrats said this should really go hand in hand with efforts to make it easier to build more housing in places that are not flood prone, because there are a lot of people who are still displaced.

So lawmakers were really again wrestling with these big questions about the future. That one’s headed to the House next.

Mary Williams Engisch: And wasn’t there a bill about collecting funds back? The Climate Superfund Act?

Abagael Giles: Yes! As of the time we’re taping, this one just narrowly made the crossover deadline.

It’s modeled after the federal Superfund program. Essentially, big companies that refine and extract fossil fuels would have to pay for a share of the damage brought to Vermont by climate change — and what it costs us to adapt.

That share would be based on how much they contributed to global emissions, which caused climate change.

More from Vermont Public: Climate Superfund Act would make oil companies pay for climate damages in Vermont

New York and Massachusetts have similar bills, but Vermont would potentially be the first state in the country to do this.

Gov. Phil Scott says he wouldn’t sign this right now — he does not want Vermont to lead first on this issue. He says he’s worried about the cost of litigation. Oil companies don’t part with their money readily.

But the bill passed out of the Senate judiciary committee with a unanimous vote and bipartisan support.

Its proponents say that absent a federal climate Superfund, this is really the best way to make sure that Vermont taxpayers aren’t the ones footing what, by best estimates, is going to be billions and billions of dollars for a problem these companies have known their products were causing for decades.

Mary Williams Engisch: And also, chemical contaminants. That was front and center too this year, right? 

Abagael Giles: Yeah, lawmakers in the House also voted this week to advance a bill that would ban seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides in Vermont by 2027. New York state also has a ban on this timeline.

These are pesticides that have been proven to be toxic to bees and pollinators. Right now, most of the corn and soy seeds in Vermont are coated with these chemicals.

Lawmakers on the House committee that deals with agriculture looked at a Cornell literature review which examined more than a thousand studies that confirmed coated seeds are harmful to pollinators like bees, and don’t provide an economic benefit to farmers.

Democrats and environmental advocates applauded this moving with strong support to the Senate, but Republicans again expressed concern about Vermont leading the way on this effort.

And there’s a bill from last year that is expected to come up after crossover in the House committee that deals with health care. it would ban PFAS or so-called “forever chemicals” in things like makeup and menstrual products, as well as clothes and turf.

Mary Williams Engisch: Wasn’t there a bill that made controversial changes to the Fish and Wildlife Board?

Abagael Giles: Yes — this was a big one. And the Senate voted 21-8 to give preliminary approval to that policy Friday.

More from Vermont Public: Bill proposing big changes to the Fish and Wildlife Board moves forward

It has proven one of the more controversial bills of the session. It proposed a requirement that the Fish and Wildlife Board, which writes regulations for hunting, trapping and fishing in Vermont, be equal parts people who hunt, trap or fish and those who do not.

This was very controversial — the final bill was softened in an amendment this week and this requirement was removed, but it does call for the board to represent “balanced viewpoints.”

The original bill included a 50-foot setback for traps from public trails. That got scrapped this week, but a ban on hunting coyotes with hounds did stay.

The final bill also does take away the rulemaking power of the Fish and Wildlife Board. If the bill is successful, that would be done by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.


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.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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