Democrats came up 12 votes short of overriding the governor’s veto of an energy bill in the House on Wednesday, then couldn’t quite pull off an effort to resurrect the bulk of the bill.
Together with a failed veto override of a campaign finance bill it meant two political victories for Republican Gov. Jim Douglas over the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Democrats weren’t casting it that way. “It’s a huge loss for Vermonters,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. He said legislators succeeded in raising awareness about global warming and that the veto proved Douglas is out of touch with Vermonters on the issue.
Douglas disagreed. “Some of the rhetoric has been noisy but devoid of fact,” he said. His work on establishing tough auto and greenhouse gas emission standards shows his dedication to the issue, he said. Douglas also said he would meet today with his cabinet to begin implementing parts of the bill.
At Wednesday’s one-day veto session, hundreds of supporters of the energy bill filled the Statehouse, Page=001 Column=001 OK,0000.00many of them wearing bright green stickers calling for a veto override. A polar bear mascot roamed the building, wearing a sign that referred to a comment by Douglas about Vermont’s futility at saving a single polar bear. The sign read, “Why doesn’t the governor love me?”
On the House floor, Rep. Robert Dostis, D-Waterbury, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, urged members to override the veto. “This is not about political affiliations,” he said. “It’s about being responsible stewards of the earth.”
In the end, though, the 86-61 vote was mostly about political affiliation. All 49 Republicans sided with the governor. They were joined by 13 Democrats.
Rep. Debbie Evans, D-Essex, was one of them. She said her constituents have a strong interest in the IBM Corp. plant in Essex Junction and feared that a tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant that was in the bill would lead to higher electric rates and drive IBM away.
“I look at my constituents,” Evans said. “They are Page=001 Column=002 OK,0000.00 Overset= 00132^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^the people I represent.” Still, she said, the decision to vote against a bill she otherwise likes was difficult.
House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, said she wasn’t surprised by the vote, though she had held out hope for an override.
Jennifer Quavelin of Burlington was among the sticker-clad supporters of the bill. She said she has followed the energy bill with interest and came at the urging of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “I’m disappointed that our representatives chose to defend the interests of big business,” she said.
After the House failed the override the veto, the Senate sought to keep it alive by passing a new version that didn’t include the Vermont Yankee tax and made a few other concessions Douglas had sought. The package mirrored one that a team of legislators tried without success to sell the governor in recent days.
Douglas remained dubious of the energy-efficiency program included in the bill and wanted them to include his alternative to offer subsidized loans for Vermonters to make their homes more energy efficient.
Efforts to bring the governor on board continued Wednesday as Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie shuttled into the governor’s office with an additional proposal – to include wording that the Public Service Board should consider the governor’s loan program along with other efficiency plans.
“I wanted to be able to bridge the gap,” Dubie said. He said Douglas wasn’t interested in putting together new language in a one-day session. Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said the governor also wanted his loan program enacted immediately rather than waiting for the Public Service Board to consider it.
The Senate voted 23-6, for the revised bill, winning support from several Republicans. Shumlin said that the Republicans’ support indicates that Douglas is increasingly in the minority on the issue.
Republicans in the House, however, weren’t willing to go along. Their support was needed to give the House the three-quarters vote needed to take the bill up. House Republicans said no.
House Minority Leader Steve Adams said legislative leaders had insisted no new legislation would be considered at the veto session. He and Symington disagreed about whether the bill constituted new legislation. Adams also said many in his party still object to expanding a government efficiency program.
Douglas listed 23 items from the vetoed bill that he wants implemented without legislation and that he will work with the Legislature next year on seven more that need legislative action.
Encouraging the Public Service Board to look into allowing group net metering is one example. Such a move would permit neighborhoods to tap into a wind turbine, for example. Democrats countered that the governor’s approach carries significantly less clout than the bill would have by requiring the Public Service Board to act.
Shumlin vowed that he will return in January with more extensive legislation aimed at combating climate change. “What we did succeed in doing is engaging more Vermonters in debate on reducing our addiction to oil,” he said.
By Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer
12 July 2007