Action after the veto
Gov. James Douglas has made it clear he will veto the new energy bill when it reaches his desk, leaving the Legislature with the decision of what to do next. Tighter standards for energy use by commercial buildings.
House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin have said they will call the Legislature back for a veto override vote, but they ought to have Plan B in hand in the event the override fails.
An override, which requires a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate, is an unlikely prospect, given the sharp differences that exist on the question of taxing Vermont Yankee for a new energy-efficiency program. The Vermont Yankee tax was the most controversial and dubious part of the energy bill. It was our view that the bill was important enough that the governor's signature was warranted, but it was a close call. Certainly, there are enough questions about the program's revenue source that a two-thirds majority will be virtually impossible to obtain.
So why go through the exercise of a veto override vote? The Democrats will want to call the public's attention to the veto, thinking Vermonters will take a dim view of Douglas' obstruction of progressive energy legislation. But there ought to be substance as well as politics to the veto override session, and the leaders ought to be prepared to pass an alternative energy bill that the governor is willing to sign.
The bill originally passed by the House contained many positive provisions to encourage energy conservation, such as:
An investigation of smart metering, time-use pricing, and conservation rates.
The creation of new Public Service Board rules for the permitting of meteorological towers under Act 248.
Creation of renewable energy pricing by the utilities.
Encouragement of small-scale power projects.
An ombudsman to help those considering renewable energy projects through the regulatory process.
A program to help communities assess the potential for renewable energy projects.
A report on recommendations for increased use of biodiesel blends for state buildings and vehicles.
A report on a process for approval of new mini-hydro projects.
These many provisions lean toward a new round of investigations, studies and reports that will be useful in charting an energy policy, but they do not represent action now to curb energy consumption. Douglas is willing to sign a bill with these measures, and the Legislature ought to be ready to send it to him for his signature. But there is more to be done to address the problems of energy consumption and climate change, and the energy-efficiency program that ran afoul of the governor remains a good idea.
Douglas' veto will require the Legislature to give further thought to a reliable funding source for the program. It is clear that the state must do more than conduct studies and reports about future action. The demand for action on climate change is urgent.
Urgency doesn't mean hasty action is a good thing. It is clear that Vermont's contribution toward addressing the climate crisis will not be in the quantitative reduction of the state's emissions. Rather, Vermont's contribution will be by example. That means Vermont's programs must be well thought out and successful, providing a model for larger communities looking to take action to address the global climate crisis.