An energy bill that is the centerpiece of the Legislature’s work this session cleared the House by more than enough votes Friday afternoon, but not with enough votes to clear a likely veto from the governor.
Representatives bantered back and forth for about three hours, lauding the merits of energy efficiency and renewable energy, but disagreeing about the wisdom of a tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant that would pay for the efficiency measures. They voted 85-61 for the bill, mostly along party lines.
Gov. Jim Douglas wouldn’t directly say Friday night whether he would veto the bill, but said, “I think everybody understands my view on raising taxes we don’t need.”
“This Legislature has a unique opportunity,” said Rep. Robert Dostis, D-Waterbury, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, in making a pitch for the legislation. “We can achieve greater energy independence, namely reducing dependence on foreign oil.”
Dostis also emphasized that the legislation would save Vermonters money on their heating bills and protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Those goals were not openly in contention on the House floor, but the details about how to achieve them were. In a morning Democratic caucus, members applauded work on the bill, with only minor dissent. Republicans were steadfast in their opposition.
“We expected whatever we came up with, if it had revenue, we would have a battle on our hands,” said Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morristown. “We have a battle.”
“We all want to save the world,” said Rep. Joyce Errecart, R-Shelburne, vice chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “This bill raises taxes and spends money with little accountability and with little evidence of real results.”
Errecart took issue with an increased tax on Vermont Yankee’s power generation that would bring in $25 million from 2009 to 2012 and with the details of the energy-efficiency program that the tax would pay for.
The plan would tax Yankee’s power generation at a rate of $.00225 per kilowatt-hour in 2009, $.0025 in 2010 and $.003 in 2011, the same rate at which wind power generations would be assessed.
Supporters defended the legislation’s potential for bringing savings on energy bills. Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, whose family owns a furniture company, said the efficiency program would bring savings to businesses like theirs.
Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, said homeowners need the help, too. “Vermonters are getting hammered and they’re looking to us for answers,” he said.
Entergy Corp., owner of the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon, fought hard against the tax. Company spokesman Brian Cosgrove said he was relieved to win the backing of a few Democrats, an indication that the House lacks the votes to override a possible gubernatorial veto. “Getting over 60 was good,” Cosgrove said. “I’m very pleased we got a good bipartisan vote even though we didn’t win.”
Supporters of the legislation indicated some of the 61 who voted against the bill might be willing to vote to override the veto. Nonetheless, a veto override would be tough to pull off. Every Democrat, Progressive and independent would need to fall in line to reach 100 votes for a veto override against the 49 House Republicans.
Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, who supports the legislation, criticized the Democratic majority for not doing a better job of selling its merits while allowing Douglas to focus on the tax. “The tax is one out of eight pieces of this legislation. The governor’s been able to talk about one piece,” he said.
“I think this is really significant work,” Pearson said. “It frustrates me that it’s going to end up in the trash can.”
By Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer
12 May 2007
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