S.230 Fixed!

Late last night the legislature passed a fixed version of the energy siting bill (S.230) previously vetoed by Gov. Peter Shumlin. The new bill (S.260) made four simple clarifications necessary to address the governor’s concerns.

VPIRG supports this bill. It will empower towns and regions to take a greater role, and get a greater say, in our clean energy transition — provided they write plans that advance Vermont’s renewable energy and climate goals. And it creates a pilot program to start getting more solar built on places like parking lot canopies.

It’s good policy, and it’s widely supported. So how did this bill nearly die?

In short, on days like this, a relative handful of legislators are often able to hold good legislation hostage, or even block it entirely. That’s because the legislature’s rules require a supermajority of legislators to vote to move bills faster than normal. And with the legislature just scheduled to be back for one day, the minority of legislators who oppose clean energy had far more power than usual.

The Senate quickly took up and passed the fix. But then, House Republicans (joined by three Independents) blocked the fix from even being debated.

Throughout the day, they made clear they were only interested in overriding the governor’s veto, regardless of the possibility that it would create a moratorium on wind power, and they were going to continue blocking any attempts to vote on the clarified language.

The logjam finally began to break late in the afternoon, when House leadership made clear they would not accept anything less than a fixed bill and would bring legislators back as many times as it took to overcome obstruction from opponents of clean energy.

Around eight o’clock, the Senate voted to sustain the governor’s veto. After that, opponents had two options — continue to stall, dragging the process out over days, or allow the fixed energy siting bill to be voted on.

In the end, the vote was allowed to go forward, and the House passed the bill by an overwhelming voice vote.

No account of yesterday’s events would be complete without a hearty thank you to House Leadership for making clear they would not allow the legislature to go home without a fixed bill, and of course to Senator Chris Bray of Addison County for his tireless work, before, during, and now after the legislative session to empower towns and help advance Vermont’s transition to clean energy.