November 21, 2020
Global Warming Solutions Act

By Brian Gray

Recently, the Vermont Legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which legally mandates that the state meet certain carbon emission reductions targets in the coming years. While Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill, more than 2/3 of the House and Senate voted to override his veto and the Solutions Act became law on September 22, 2020.
What are the stated goals of the GWSA?

  • Vermont must reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • Emissions need to be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by 2050.

One of the more controversial parts of the GWSA is a provision that allows individuals to sue the government if those emissions reduction requirements are not met.
This aggressive approach follows the failure of earlier measures to limit carbon reductions in Vermont. According to the latest data available, as of 2016 greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont were 13% higher than 1990 levels and only 5% below 2005 levels.

The bill does not specify how the required emissions goals should be reached, but rather mandates a process roadmap that will ultimately result in the rules. There are four steps involved:

  1. A 23-member council, including state government officials and citizen experts is charged with coming up with a pollution reduction plan by Dec. 1, 2021.
  2. After the preliminary plan is presented, the Agency of Natural Resources will have six months to come up with a regulatory structure to enact it.
  3. The rules will then go into effect no later than December 1, 2022.
  4. Finally, the Vermont legislature would subsequently enact policies that would reflect the measures proposed by the council and implemented by the Agency of Natural Resources.

Vermont is not the first state to propose this type of carbon reduction plan. There are models for similar legislation that have been enacted in other states including Maine, Massachusetts, and New York.

Largely, opinions on the merits of this legislation fall on two sides:

Proponents of the bill say that giving Vermonters a way to hold the state accountable for reducing emissions is essential to make sure that Vermont meets its responsibility to be a part of the solution, particularly because Vermont currently has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions of any state in the region, at over 15 tons per person.
Others feel that the Solutions Act provides a way to help reduce Vermonters energy costs and keep more of our energy dollars local. Over the past decade, Vermont has averaged about $2 billion a year in fossil fuel spending, about $1.5 billion of which drains out of state every year.

Some legislators who support the legislation feel it does not go far enough, and continue to advocate for a carbon tax and more targeted actions to increase renewable energy sources and mass transit.

Opponents, including Gov. Phil Scott, argue that the bill could lead to costly legal battles and work against the state's efforts to address climate change. Others feel that because Vermont is such a small state, the impact that these measures would have on global climate change are minimal and not worth pursuing.

There is no doubt that making a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions as soon as possible is an essential ingredient in the fight against climate change. Whether this measure helps us get there remains to be seen, but it is clear that the absence of action is not an option.

This early stage in the process for the Global Warming Solutions Act is the best time to make your opinion known to your state representatives. Remember, your voice and your vote matter!