Vt. Senate overrides Scott's veto of the Affordable Heat Act. Now it goes to the House
The Vermont Senate voted 20 to 10 on Tuesday morning to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of the Affordable Heat Act.
The bill is the biggest climate policy of the session. It aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from heating buildings, which is the biggest source of emissions in the state according to the latest greenhouse gas inventory from Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.
The bill tasks the Public Utility Commission with designing and studying a credit-based marketplace, where companies that import fossil heating fuels will have to buy, fund or create a certain number of clean heat credits every year. Credits can come from doing things that help their customers use less fossil fuels.
Companies could create credits by doing home weatherization, helping people switch to biofuels or advanced wood heat, or installing cold climate heat pumps for their customers. They can also pay someone else to do this work, or pay a central “default delivery agent” that will aggregate resources from multiple businesses to do bigger projects — that could include replacing old mobile homes with high efficiency ones.
Fuel companies will have to earn credits each year in proportion to how much fossil fuel they sold the year prior, and how polluting that fuel is.
The bill’s proponents say that activities that do the most to reduce carbon emissions will earn the most credits. The bill will look at the lifecycle emissions a fuel creates — from where it’s made to how it travels and ultimately where it’s used.
But some environmental groups in the state say the bill should exclude biofuels and natural gas derived from methane capture on farms and landfills altogether.
Democrats in both chambers are pushing to override Scott’s veto. They failed narrowly last session. The Senate voted first this year because the Affordable Heat Act — S.5 — was first introduced in that chamber.
A gubernatorial veto can only be overridden if both chambers vote in favor of the override, one after the other. Two-thirds of members present have to vote in favor of an override for it to advance.
Three Senate democrats voted to sustain the governor’s veto Tuesday: Bobby Starr of Essex-Orleans, Dick Mazza of Chittenden County and Irene Wrenner, also of Chittenden County.
Speaking on the floor, Wrenner — who voted against the policy when it first appeared on the Senate floor earlier in the session — said special interests were given too much sway in the development of S.5. She alluded to Vermont Gas Systems and Green Mountain Power.
“If this bill were truly about greenhouse gas reduction, biomass, biofuels and fracked gas wouldn’t get a pass,” Wrenner said. “Instead, those without a seat at the table will pay to enrich those who had one.”
Sen. Dick Sears, a democrat from Bennington, voted in favor of the override. He voted against advancing the Affordable Heat Act when it was in the Senate Appropriations committee, but said his opinion on the policy has changed.
Sears said he has faith in the “check-back” provision in the bill, that the policy will have to come back to the full Legislature after the cost has been analyzed and be approved as a second law before it can go into effect.
“The hundreds of people that I’ve heard from, particularly senior citizens, are clearly worried and scared,” Sears said on the floor. “It will be our jobs to help alleviate those fears. Finally, we may see the same results as we did with single payer [healthcare].”
Gov. Scott vetoed the bill over the check-back provision, saying it wasn’t clear enough in stating that the new regulations would have to be approved by the full Legislature as a second law before they can go into effect.
In a memo to lawmakers last week, legislative counsel said the Affordable Heat Act does require this.
“The ‘check-back’ language … states that the final proposed rules cannot take effect until the General Assembly enacts a bill authorizing the rules to be adopted,” the memo reads. “Enactment requires passage by both bodies of the General Assembly and presentment to the Governor.”
In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Scott called the Senate’s vote “unfortunate” and thanked the senators who sustained his veto of the Affordable Heat Act.
“I will continue to offer policy solutions that help people, not punish those who can least afford it,” Scott said.
Released last week, the latest greenhouse gas inventory for Vermont shows that without some sort of major policy solution in the home heating sector, Vermont is nowhere near on-track to reach its statutory deadline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2030.
The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020 requires that Vermont cut emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, with big deadlines in 2025 and 2050 as well. If the state misses those deadlines, it can be sued.
It’s expected that the House will vote on whether to override the governor’s veto on Thursday.