Friday, June 8
BENNINGTON — Former Vice President Al Gore endorsed an energy and global climate change bill Thursday that was vetoed by Republican Gov. James Douglas a day earlier, heating up the battle to steer public opinion about the legislation.

Earlier in the day, Douglas introduced an energy efficiency plan of his own that he says will invest $20 million over four years in energy efficiency efforts. In addition, Douglas said his plan does not require any new taxes, which was the main reason for his veto.

House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windsor, who started the past legislative session with three weeks of hearings and seminars on global warming, sought Gore's endorsement of the bill, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere and promote renewable energy sources.

Gore appeared on Vermont Interactive Television from a studio in New York. His comments were broadcast in six communities around the state.

Both Symington and Shumlin painted Douglas as an obstruction to making Vermont a leader on global climate change Thursday.

But Gore, who has made global climate change his main cause since losing the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000 and created and starred in the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," said he was ready to help face challenges standing in the way of the legislation.

"I'm enthusiastic about fighting through whatever stands in our way," said Gore. "Get that override and put this terrific law into effect."

Gore praised the work done in the Legislature on climate change.

"I congratulate the legislators who have crafted this. ... If the grass-roots rise up and say they want this then it can happen," he said. "I've learned to recognize some characteristics of what I believe works in legislation and you've crafted a terrific piece of legislation."

Douglas and Democratic leaders have been squabbling for weeks over the legislation, which is a conglomeration of separate House and Senate bills. The House version originally dealt mostly with renewable energy and received broad support. The Senate version, however, which contained a tax on Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, was contentious and not as widely supported.

Douglas dismissed Gore's endorsement Thursday as a publicity stunt. In touting his own plan, Douglas repeated his reasons for opposing the Legislature's bill, saying the expansion of the efficiency utility would be an unnecessary bureaucracy funded by an unfair tax.

"(My) plan is a very clear reminder that the solution to our challenges is not raising taxes and creating new bureaucracies," said Douglas.

Douglas' main qualm with the bill is a tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to raise revenues to pay for the expansion of Efficiency Vermont to include all home heating fuels. The program now helps reduce electrical costs and electrical use for homes and businesses.

Douglas plan

Douglas's plan, which he has labeled the "Energy Efficiency Investment Program," would be a public-private partnership that creates a pool of private banks to create capital to provide loans to consumers to weatherize their homes and businesses in an effort to burn less fossil fuel.

The state would provide about $500,000 each year to the banks to help keep interest rates on the loans below market value.

But Shumlin said Douglas's plan puts a greater burden on the Vermont ratepayer, and that Douglas is more concerned with protecting Vermont Yankee, which is owned by Entergy Nuclear, than Vermonters.

"Vermonters cannot take on more debt. Middle class Vermonters cannot go out and take on another loan," he said. "This governor will go to great lengths to protect a $10 billion company ... instead of protecting Vermonters' pocketbooks," said Shumlin.

Symington said Douglas' plan was a "piecemeal" approach that was put together at the last minute after legislators left town. Both she and Shumlin claimed Douglas did not hold serious discussions with them during the legislative session.

"He has not had a serious conversation ... with me about policy," said Shumlin.

"I get some passing comments and jokes. I get a shrug," added Symington. "To imply the governor ever came to the table willing to participate in a conversation about energy efficiency and reliable energy for this state is a way stretch. It didn't happen."

Gore encouraged Vermonters to understand the facts of the bill and encouraged their representatives to vote to override Douglas' veto.

"I really hope that the citizens in Vermont will take the time to look at the facts and then get your representatives to support this. ... It's not a political issue," said Gore.

Legislative leaders have scheduled a July 11 session to try to override the veto. The Legislature has a strong Democratic majority that has the necessary two-thirds votes to override a veto when joined by a handful of Progressive members, but failed earlier this year to override another Douglas veto of a spending bill.

Symington said her focus now is on educating Vermonters and legislators alike about the bill, but she has so far encountered three representatives who have changed their minds and will vote to override the veto.

"I'm not at the point of counting. There's an evolving conversation here," said Symington.

Contact Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com