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Vermont House Mandates Greenhouse Gas Reductions, Allows Right To Sue

Flags on a desk in the Vermont House chamber.
Elodie Reed
The Vermont House passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires the state to cut carbon emissions by 26% over the next five years.

The Vermont House has strongly supported a bill that both mandates the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and allows people to sue if the state misses its goals.

The Global Warming Solutions Act requires Vermont to cut emissions 26% by 2025, compared to 2005 levels.

Prior to this week's vote, Middletown Springs Progressive Robin Chestnut-Tangerman urged hesitant lawmakers to approve the bill:

"To my colleagues who urge caution and restraint, who don't want to rush in or disrupt things: Disruption is here," he said. "We can choose to face it, or not."

More from VPR: As Carbon Emissions Rise in Vermont, Lawmakers Consider Mandate To Reduce Them [Nov. 25, 2019]

The vote Thursday was 105 to 37, with most Republicans voting "no." Final passage came Friday morning on a strong voice vote.

Timothy Briglin, D-Thetford, chairs the House Energy and Technology Committee. He urged lawmakers to support the bill and said the state and planet face a climate crisis.

A person holds a microphone.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR File
Thetford Rep. Tim Briglin.

“One of the most compelling reasons to start the wheels of progress turning on climate action, is the strong evidence that delay significantly increases future costs and risks," he said.

The bill also allows private citizens to sue the state if it doesn't deliver on the emissions cuts.

House Republicans objected to that provision, as well as the mandates set out in the bill. Rep. Robert Bancroft, R-Westford, offered an amendment to remove the right-to-sue provision.

“It is my opinion that this is a very ambitious goal that we’re setting for [the Agency of Natural Resources], and I think it would behoove us to remove that threat and let them do their work,” Bancroft said.

Bancroft’s amendment failed on a voice vote, despite concerns raised by Republicans that the state will miss its goals and then would be found liable in court.   

More from VPR: 'We Have No Strategy': Lawmakers Eye New Plan For Emissions Reductions [Feb. 4]

Briglin said the bill’s deadlines, coupled with the legal threat, are important to keep the pressure on the state.

“There’s a reason these deadlines are in here; they’re meant to inspire action,” he said. “And they are also meant as an accountability provision when we look forward to the cause of action [the ability to bring suit] section of the bill.”

The bill now goes to the Senate. Republican Gov. Phil Scott has expressed concerns about the mandate to cut greenhouse gases.

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