by Guy and Tim Page
A House bill introduced March 1 would have plans in place by 2026 to overhaul the entire Vermont economy into a “regenerative economy.”
The bill would task 11 regional People’s Assemblies to create a Regenerative Economy Roadmap that would make Vermont a 90% Regenerative Economy by 2046.
One of H435’s lead co-sponsors comes as no surprise to State House observers: Rep. Brian Cina, a Burlington Progressive who since taking his seat in January, 2019 has sponsored or co-sponsored several hundred bills, many of them aspirational in a progressive vein. The colorful, outspoken Cina has sponsored 89 bills in 2023 alone.
But Cina’s legislative successes (when they happen) usually are a result of dozens of other lawmakers and stakeholders getting behind his initiative. He’s an adept catalyst and provacateur. What he’s not is a key legislative decision-maker.
But Amy Sheldon is.
Sheldon, chair of the House Environment and Energy Committee, is as low-key as Cina is outgoing. A natural resources consultant with a Masters Degree in resource planning, Sheldon is deadly serious about environmental transformation. She will – and has – spent not months but years leading committees under her jurisdiction to pass transformative legislation. She chaired the House committee that has spent half a decade on rewriting Act 250, the state’s landmark environmental planning bill.
Last session she was the sole sponsor of a bill to fund a planning study for conserving 50% of all total land area from development. After lengthy testimony in her committee, she shepherded the bill through the House and the Senate – only to see it vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott.
Undeterred, she reintroduced the bill again this year as H126, community resilience and biodiversity protection, and has spent many hours of committee time reviewing it. It passed the committee on March 1 and was sent to the House Appropriations Committee.
According to its introduction, H435 would address claims that “the world is facing climate emergencies, mass extinction, and ecological collapse as a consequence of human economic activity over the past 400 years. These activities did not account for the full impact of the economy on the environment and on society. In order to survive these changes, Vermont must build resiliency and create a roadmap for a just transition from an extractive economy to a new economy that repairs and restores the Earth.”
Also, the bill states: “There will not be economic justice without racial justice and social equity, and the new economy must recognize and rectify the intersection of systemized oppressions,” and openly calls for the creation of local “People’s Assemblies.”
Much of the bill reads like classic Cina – for example, “The world is facing climate emergencies, mass extinction, and ecological collapse as a consequence of human economic activity over the past 400 years.”
But it also has a 32-point punch list of detailed wonkiness describing how Vermont must change its energy use, childcare, education, healthcare, and housing (and much more) to achieve the 90% Regenerative Economy. That part sounds more like Sheldon.
Will Sheldon put this bill on the back-burner of aspirational legislation? Or will she – as she has already twice done – use the Power of the Chair to make change happen? When H.435 appears on her committee agenda for more than a hearing or two, the public will have its answer.
But here’s a clue, maybe – the same day H126 (protecting 50% of all land from development) was voted out of her committee, she and Cina introduced H435. One would-be transformative task done, has she begun another?