Senate returns to climate change legislation today

By Guy Page

May 14, 2020 – Today, for the first time since adjourning in March in the early days of the pandemic, the Vermont Senate will consider a slate of non-pandemic related bills.

“Just as the economy is opening, it is time to start resurrecting the typical legislative process in terms of what bills get taken up,” Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe explained at the Senate Caucus yesterday

Today’s virtual meeting of the full Senate can be seen live at 1 pm on YouTube. Bills up for initial “second reading” approval today include:

S.185, “adoption of a climate change response plan,” sponsored by Sens. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) and Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), requires “the Department of Health to develop and adopt a statewide climate change response plan” and “requires regional planning commissions to develop a communications plan for the purpose of mitigating and responding to climate change related public health risks.” The state plan would be due Nov. 1. No cost estimates or allocations are mentioned in the bill. 

S337, sponsored by Natural Resources and Energy Committee, would allow Efficiency Vermont and other energy efficiency entities (EEEs) each to spend up to $2 million per year to reduce thermal and transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. 

At present Efficency Vermont, Burlington Electric Dept. and other EEEs are funded mostly by an assessment on consumer electricity bills. Their programs target electricity consumption. But climate change-minded lawmakers want to access that funding stream to pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for building heat and transportation. According to a State of Vermont graph, electricity ranks fourth (8%) behind transportation (45%), thermal heating (23%), and agriculture (12%). 

Other non-Covid-19 bills up for review today include:

S.197, prohibiting discrimination based on genetic information

S.234, miscellaneous judiciary procedures

S.243, establishing the Emergency Service Provider Wellness Commission

S.301, repealing the sunset on certificate of good applications for telecommunications

The Senate Caucus yesterday also engaged in a fascinating conversation on how to approach the $400 million-plus 2021 deficit. It included a possibly tongue-in-cheek request for divine intervention, Ashe’s explanation of VPR comments reported in Tuesday’s Vermont Daily “Tell us the program you want to get rid of” column, hopes that the federal government will come to the rescue, addressing Vermont’s income gap disparity, and consideration of raising taxes. It starts at about the 44:30 minute mark, runs for 12 minutes, and is well worth the time for anyone interested in budget reduction. 

Graphic from Trinidad & Tobago government website