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Gov. Phil Scott vetoes climate bill that would transform the way Vermonters heat their homes

Gov. Phil Scott addresses the Vermont Senate after lawmakers adjourned the legislative session in 2018. He stands at a podium in the Statehouse.
Peter Hirschfeld
VPR File
On Friday, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill that would create a clean heat standard for Vermont. He's shown here in the Statehouse in 2018.

Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a bill that many environmental groups feel is the most important priority of the session. It would create a clean heat standard for Vermont.

It's the biggest piece of emissions-cutting policy called out in Vermont's new Climate Action Plan. It's also the main solution the state has considered to date to help Vermont reduce emissions from heating buildings, in order to meet its climate change commitments.

Heating buildings accounts for about 35% of Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions. That's the second-biggest source of emissions in the state, behind transportation.

Vermont ranks 17th in the United States when it comes to how much energy its residents consume per capita to power and heat their homes.

More from VPR: Reporter debrief: Vt. lawmakers are weighing historic regulations on fossil fuel companies

The bill

The clean heat standard bill calls on the Public Utilities Commission to develop regulations to reduce fossil fuel use in buildings and create a clean heat credit program. Companies that import fossil fuels used for heat will have to buy or earn a certain number of credits every year, based on how much their products emit. They and others will be able to create credits by doing things that help people reduce emissions in their homes and businesses.

Examples include weatherization, helping people install cold climate heat pumps or switch to high-efficiency wood heat, or supplying biofuels.

The bill says credits will be awarded based on the emissions a fuel produces over the full course of its lifecycle — from extraction or refinement to being burned for heat.

The veto

In his veto message, the governor said that he understood the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Which is why I proposed a $216 million dollar climate package and why my administration has engaged in this policy conversation since January," Scott wrote. "However, over the last several months it became very clear to me that no one had a good handle on what this program was going to look like, with some even describing it as a carbon tax on the floor.

He added: "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... What the Legislature has passed is a bill that includes some policy, with absolutely no details on costs and impacts, and a lot of authority and policy making delegated to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), an unelected board."

Jason Maulucci, Gov. Scott's press secretary said Friday afternoon, "He felt an obligation to the people of Vermont to veto this bill, so that they have a voice if this comes back and is further considered." 

More from VPR: How Vermont is — and isn’t — on track to reduce its share of climate-warming emissions

Legislative leaders react

Legislative leaders say they are perplexed and disappointed by Gov. Scott's veto, because they think their bill meets the governor's requirements.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jane Kitchel has tried to incorporate the governor's concerns into the legislation. Her committee introduced an amendment that requires the PUC submit draft rules for a clean heat standard to the Legislature for final approval in 2024.

"Disappointed, because the whole reason that the Appropriations Committee was so intent on this amendment was to recognize that we did not want to delegate legislative decision-making," Kitchel said.

Legislative leaders will now decide if they want to try to override the governor's veto next week.

Climate advocates react

Johanna Miller is with Vermont Natural Resources Council and is a member of the state Climate Council. She helped write Vermont's Climate Action Plan, which offers an outline for how the state can meet its statutory climate commitments.

She says, "The veto of the clean heat standard throws into question the state's ability to deliver on our statutorily required and now legal obligation to reduce pollution across the board in the state of Vermont."

Miller says the state needs to move forward with a policy that reduces emissions from buildings.

Ben Edgerly-Walsh is with the environmental advocacy group VPIRG. He says the Legislature and governor have made some good investments in fighting climate change this session.

"But they are absolutely not a substitute for a policy that would move an entire energy sector — the heating sector, in this case — where it needs to go, in terms of climate solutions," he said Friday.

Both say it's critical that the state move forward with a clean heat standard this session.

This story will be updated.

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

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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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