Gov. Peter Shumlin has threatened to veto a bill that establishes sound limits for wind turbines and grants towns more say over renewable-energy siting.
Legislators hope they can amend S.230 to satisfy the governor before the legislative session ends Saturday.
After the veto threat, Senators were unable to reach agreement on amendments to the bill, which several have described as “non-starters.”
Senators expected to move the bill to the House Thursday evening, but President Pro Tem Sen. John Campbell, D-Quechee, adjourned the chamber before they could do so.
“I was surprised by the adjournment,” said Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington. “I thought we’d be here a couple hours. … I thought we were going to send it over.”
Some senators blamed Senate leadership and the governor for stalling the bill, other senators blamed the House.
“To me what’s important is that the Senate has acted, and out of respect for the full Senate, we should send our work over to the House,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, the bill’s author and the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
“Anyone who starts messing around with it … I’d say it’s disrespectful to the entire Senate,” Bray said. “We voted as a body; when you finish your work, you move to the next step in the process: in our case, that next step very clearly is to move it to the House.
“I hope we ship it as soon as possible,” he said. “I think that’s the job of leadership: get it to the House. We have an orderly and clear process – let’s follow it.”
Sen. John Rodgers, D-Glover, said there was no sense in moving S.230 to the House knowing lawmakers would attach unacceptable provisions to it.
“They were showing us language that was a non-starter,” Rodgers said.
One House amendment would have authorized the Public Service Board to impose ad hoc sound limits on new wind-turbine proposals until the board finished drafting new sound standards by July 2017. Another would require the board to perform emergency rule-making for a month to establish interim sound limits that would apply to projects proposed before final rules are written mid-summer 2017.
Critics said under these provisions the board would apply noise limits as they have in the past, which resulted in noise levels beyond what some nearby residents thought tolerable.
“I would rather have effectively a moratorium on large-scale wind projects until the standards get worked out,” said Rep. Paul Lefebvre, R-Island Pond.
House Natural Resources and Energy Committee chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, told committee members the governor threatened to veto the bill over a provision that would have made new noise standards retroactive to April 15, 2016.
“We’ve had people from the administration [testifying in committee] for weeks,” said Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh. “How come we’re just hearing it now?”
Klein said he didn’t know.
“I’m frustrated because I ran around for three hours trying to find a compromise, and I was informed that compromise, the governor would veto,” said Rep. Michael Hebert, R-Vernon.
Klein said committee members had language before them that the governor found favorable, and that “the alternative is to lose everything that’s been worked on in the bill, and what you have is what we have today, and that’s what you’re going to have for the next year.”
Klein later said he’d done all he could to get the bill past the governor’s desk.
“I’ve done my best to try and get the bill across the finish line, because there’s lots of good stuff in there that people wanted,” he said.
Rodgers said he believed Statehouse lobbyists intended to kill the bill, but said he’d work to salvage a directive telling the Public Service Board to establish sound limits on wind turbines.
“I’m not giving up on it until the end,” he said.
The bill also grants “substantial deference” to town plans certified by the Department of Public Service in Public Service Board proceedings.
Senators erred in fretting over the threat of a veto, Rodgers said, since the bill passed once already through the House with a unanimous vote, and through the Senate with only three votes against it.
“When you pass a bill unanimously, it shows you have the votes to override a veto,” he said. “There’s no problem overriding a veto, so I don’t know why we care about that threat.”
Kesha Ram, vice chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, is calling on House and Senate leaders to determine if they have the votes override a veto.
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