If there was any doubt that Gov. Phil Scott would be the single biggest obstacle in the way of meaningful climate action, it was erased in the Vermont Climate Council’s 19-4 vote to adopt its 273-page “initial plan” for meeting Vermont’s climate goals. The four “no” votes came from members of Scott’s cabinet.
And that’s all you need to know.
It’s no surprise, really. The governor lobbied against the Global Warming Solutions Act, vetoed it, and watched as the Legislature overrode his veto. He argued that the Act opened the door to costly litigation and said it was an unconstitutional infringement on executive powers.
(It must be noted that Scott was so confident of his constitutional grounds that he never took the case to court. It was the prudent course; outside of the Fifth Floor, no one seemed to buy the argument — including the Legislature’s legal team and Attorney General TJ Donovan.)
The four-page statement by the Cabinet dissenters (reachable via link embedded in VTDigger’s story) is a real piece of work. While claiming to support vigorous climate action, they produced a buffet of objections worthy of Golden Corral and just as appetizing. The statement makes it clear that the Scott administration will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into climate action, and you can expect gubernatorial vetoes if the Legislature adopts measures he doesn’t like.
Let’s run down those objections, shall we? The Gang of Four complained of an “overzealous process” and expressed “concerns about the process, timelines and construct laid out in the Act.” They said the timeframe was “unrealistic” and the process had an “unfortunate lack of transparency.” They had “significant reservations with many recommendations” including many that were “overly broad” and/or “only loosely tied to this work.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, they argued that “Nearly every one of the more than 230 actions identified in the Plan needs some amount of additional study and scrutiny.”
Geez. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
I mean, the Climate Council wasn’t exactly made up of environmental warriors. No Bill McKibbens or Greta Thunbergs here. There were eight administration officials — four of whom did not join their four colleagues in dissent. There were representatives from the business world and from agriculture, energy, fuel dealers, utilities, manufacturing, nonprofits, and rural Vermont. All of them signed on to the final plan.
The fact that four Cabinet officials found the process so thoroughly loathsome tells you what’s coming next. The administration is going to fight like hell when these recommendations hit the Legislature, and Scott has laid out plenty of reasons to veto anything he doesn’t like. If he wants, he can present himself as favoring climate action even as he tries to kill the Council’s work. After all, it was rushed, wasn’t it? These recommendations warrant more study, don’t they? More input from all Vermonters is needed, right?. Not to mention the constitutional argument that remains in his back pocket.
I’m sure the governor will position himself as a staunch supporter of fighting climate change. But, he will say with that infuriating patina of reasonableness that is Pure Phil, these aren’t the right moves, this isn’t the right time, this was a flawed process.
When he says that stuff, and I bet he will, your bullshit detector ought to be sounding the alarm. (If it doesn’t, you might want to check your batteries.)
On the bright side, there’s enough federal Covid relief money sloshing around Vermont that we’re likely to get some good climate measures out of the process. But this is a historic moment of opportunity; sooner or later, the flood tide of federal aid will ebb and we’ll be left where we’ve always been on so many issues: Agreeing on the need to do something, but bemoaning a lack of resources that prevents us from doing anything right now.
And with every new climate disaster, the need to take strong action as soon as possible becomes clearer and clearer. We should have very high expectations of the Legislature and administration in the 2022 session. If we don’t do it now, with the resources available and the urgency clear, when will we get it done?
And if we don’t get it done, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts the guy at the top of this post will be the responsible party.