Lawmakers Take Sides Following Shumlin's Energy Siting Veto

Jun 8, 2016

Democratic lawmakers are scrambling to resuscitate the renewable-energy siting bill that was vetoed by Governor Peter Shumlin on Monday. But the Republicans whose help they’ll need to rescue the legislation are not going along with the plan. 

On Monday night, hours after Peter Shumlin vetoed a piece of legislation known as S.230, Addison County Sen. Chris Bray fired off a letter to his 179 legislative colleagues in the House and Senate.

Bray, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, told fellow lawmakers that the Legislature could still ensure passage of the bill that would give towns a path to heightened influence over the siting process for wind and solar process. All they need to do to save it, Bray said, is to gather at a veto session this Thursday, and pass a new bill that corrects the technical problems that prompted Shumlin to issue the veto.

“The changes are very narrow, maintain all the original provisions and precisely correct the ambiguities which caused the veto,” Bray said at a Statehouse press conference on Tuesday. 

"The changes are very narrow, maintain all the original provisions and precisely correct the ambiguities which caused the veto." - Sen. Chris Bray

At Bray’s side was East Montpelier Rep. Tony Klein, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

“And it’s not really a fix. All it is is clarifying what we had intended to do in the first place,” Klein said. “And there is no reason in the world, other than politics, for this not to be a very easy, simple and quick session.”

Well, it won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, at least according to House Minority Leader Don Turner, who says that if Democrats want the bill to pass, they’ll have to line up the votes needed to override the governor’s veto.

“S.230 took the entire session to the end and beyond to develop language that we could all get along with, agree with, compromise,” Turner said at a press conference Tuesday. “How can it be done in two hours and have people think it’s correct, that there won’t be other problems? That is not possible.”

Shumlin says technical errors in the bill would force new, large-scale wind projects to abide by impossibly low sound standards, and effectively create a moratorium on new wind development. His worry stems from the fact that the bill says new wind projects can’t exceed allowable decibel limits in place at existing wind developments.

A project in Vergennes near a residential area has drastically lower limits than larger-scale projects. Lawmakers didn’t intend for new projects to have to abide by the Vergennes limits, but Shumlin says he’s worried that’s how the language would be interpreted.

Shumlin says unintended glitches in the bill would also require the Public Service Board to effectively decree that sound from wind turbines poses an imminent threat to the public health.

Turner and his Republican colleagues, however, say legislative lawyers have told them that the problems Shumlin cited as the basis for his veto don’t hold water. 

"The governor is vetoing this bill. We did our work on this bill. We will override it. But we're not changing it." - House Minority Leader Don Turner

“The governor manufactured these reasons to veto the bill,” Turner says.

And Turner says his caucus isn’t going to allow for the suspension of rules that would be necessary to pass the corrected version of the bill in the one day lawmakers have allotted for the process. 

The intent of the bill was to give towns more say in the siting process, and to ensure that new wind projects don’t exceed the sound limits in place for similar developments that have already been constructed.

Turner couldn’t identify ways in which the proposed fixes to the bill would undermine its intent. But he says the expedited procedure needed to pass a replacement bill would undermine the integrity of the legislative process.

“You want us to say we’re the bad people but we’re not. The governor is vetoing this bill. We did our work on this bill. We will override it. But we’re not changing it,” Turner says.

Klein says it’d a be a shame to see a perfectly reasonable fix go by the wayside because Republicans won’t suspend rules. Klein says he’ll play no role in an override, and that no bill is better than the one Shumlin vetoed Monday. 

Bray says he too is entirely opposed to an override. But he and Klein say they're dedicating their focus solely to finding a solution to fix the bill, however elusive it appears as of now.

“The question of whether I would override or not really is eclipsed in my mind by the importance of, would I like to fix the bill, and that is where all my energy is going,” Bray said.

Lawmakers will convene the veto session at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. 

This story was edited at 2:43 p.m. on 6/8/16 to clarify Bray's position on the prospect of a veto override