What was originally expected to be a routine veto session turned into a political standoff at the Statehouse – and the outcome could have consequences for the upcoming election.
After months of debating how to give Vermonters control over renewable energy siting and relief from wind turbine noise, lawmakers on Thursday used a special session to benefit the wind energy lobby and the developers they represent.
The outcome isn’t sitting well with those who want accountable government in the Green Mountain State.
The result of the day’s legislative jockeying was passage of S.260, a bill introduced in the morning to replace S.230. Gov. Peter Shumlin had vetoed S.230 on Monday, claiming the bill’s restrictions on wind turbine noise amounted to a ban on wind energy development.
For those who supported S.230 over the past five months, Thursday’s session was a violation of good government.
“S.230 already went through the entire legislative process,” House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, told Vermont Watchdog.
“It’s a bipartisan bill that passed with a unanimous vote in the House. Then it was watered down in the Senate, (and) further watered down in the committee of conference – because the governor threatened to veto it then if we didn’t change it. ”
On Thursday, Turner and his Republican caucus was successful on two occasions in blocking the three-fourths vote required to suspend the rules and take up S.260. Turner vowed to take a firm stand to “override or let the veto stand,” but said he would not compromise on a new bill.
But late in the evening, the Senate voted to sustain Shumlin’s veto, and Turner lost all leverage. House Speaker Shap Smith said Democrats would stay extra days, if necessary, to pass S.260 with a simple majority. Turner and the Republicans lost again.
Lawmakers drafted S.230 at the start of this year’s session to give towns more say over where to locate renewable energy industrial plants. The effort was a reaction to the Public Service Board’s perceived rubber-stamping of such projects.
While Democrats ultimately refused to give towns meaningful control, S.230 contained strict sound decibel standards for wind turbines, which many Vermonters hailed as progress. But those standards topped Shumlin’s list of concerns when he vetoed the bill.
Turner, who has attempted to use the minority party to champion the concerns of Vermonters, wrote in an op-ed that Shumlin’s concerns were inaccurate at best.
“Gov. Shumlin inaccurately asserts that the bill requires all wind projects to meet the ‘10 decibels above ambient’ standard,” he wrote. “S.230 clearly states that a one-size-fits-all standard is not required.”
Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday, Aaron Adler, a lawyer from the Office of Legislative Council, said he didn’t believe that the decibel limit applied to all wind projects, but he acknowledged there was some disagreement.
Regarding Shumlin’s other objections to S.230, Turner said they lacked a “rational basis” and were disputed by legislative counsel.
Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said she was disappointed to be back at the Statehouse again.
“This is all unnecessary. It’s a waste of tax payer dollars,” she said. “They should have just overridden the veto and gone home. Instead we’re just being jerked around like we’ve been the whole session.”
Don Chioffi, a former selectboard member in Rutland Town, and the original author of the Rutland Resolution that attracted over 160 towns to join the “Vermont Energy Rebellion,” also wasn’t happy with Thursday’s session.
“That’s such a disingenuous, deceitful charade that they pull on the Vermont public. It’s just unbelievable,” Chioffi said.
“They are driving a knife right in the back of 161 towns, at least, in the state of Vermont. That is overwhelmingly a majority of the state, and they have absolutely no business whatsoever remaining in office.”