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As election season percolates and ballots make their way back to town clerks across the state — more than 100,000 have been received with 15 days until Election Day — there's still a lot of work to do in Montpelier, aside from keeping the state’s COVID-19 response going.

One of those tasks is adopting the Global Warming Solutions Act.

The climate change planning legislation, passed into law as Act 153 via an override of Gov. Phil Scott’s veto, sets numerous timelines for compliance with greenhouse gas emissions standards.

But before the state gets to work, the Climate Council, the panel entrusted with coming up with policies and proposals for Legislative approval, needs to be appointed.

The Climate Council plays a central and vital role in the legislation. So a lot of attention will be focused on its membership and its actions.

With 23 members and a mandate to involve the entire state, it would make a lot of sense for some of the council’s 15 appointed members to come from Bennington and Windham counties.

The law stipulates that “all regions of the State benefit from greenhouse gas emissions reductions, including sharing in the resulting economic, quality-of life, and public health benefits.” It further directs that the plan “must support economic sectors and regions of the State that face the greatest barriers to emissions reductions, especially rural and economically distressed regions and industries.”

That certainly could be read as a mandate for representation outside Chittenden County.

Eight of the positions on the 23-member board are ex officio administration appointments. They include Secretary of Administration Susanne Young, whose position the Legislature put in charge of the council at Scott’s suggestion. Serving alongside Young will be the secretaries of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Commerce, Human Services, Transportation, and the commissioners of Public Safety and Public Service.

The remaining seats are to be filled by House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and the Committee on Committees, representing the state Senate. They include stakeholders with expertise in climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels, clean energy and manufacturing, among others.

GETTING READY

Friday, during Gov. Phil Scott’s twice-weekly COVID-19 briefing, he was asked about what the state is doing to get ready for this new reality.

As Scott often does at these news briefings, he turned to one of the administrators working directly with the issue — in this case, Julie Moore, the Secretary of Natural Resources.

“My understanding having reached out to members of both [the House and Senate] is they are actively in the process of reviewing nominations, Moore said.

“We’ve started conversations and planning work internally, both in the inventory work that will be foundational to the world of the climate council as well as how to structure and manage committee meetings,” she added.

The act stipulates that the council must be appointed within 60 days of the bill taking effect, and then must convene within 30 days, Moore explained. Given that the bill became law by Legislative override on Sept, 22, that gives stakeholders until late November to assemble the council, and late December for its first meeting,

The group has until December 1, 2021 to adopt the Vermont Climate Action Plan. Given that 2025 is the target for reducing emissions by 26 percent, and that lawsuits from residents are allowed if the state fails to meet that target, time is of the essence.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

One initiative taken up by the state this past week might play a role in a post-carbon fossil fuel landscape: The decision to join four other New England governors in committing to rebuilding the region’s electrical grid managed by ISO-New England. (New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu did not sign the letter, and did not return an email seeking comment as to why.)

Scott was asked whether the intent of working with ISO-New England was to set up a system in which the independent power grid operator would effectively levy a carbon tax at the generation level, to help reduce the demand for fossil fuel-generated power.

“That wasn’t the intent of the letter at this point in time. We’ll have to react to that in the future,” Scott said. From his standpoint, he said, the need for a grid update is about making sure the region can meet future growing demand for electricity, especially as more electric vehicles hit the road.

However, the letter Scott signed with Govs. Janet Mills of Maine, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, and Ned Lamont of Connecticut, was fairly explicit about the reasoning behind their collective request: A future in which consumers want, and laws increasingly demand, less fossil fuels and more renewable energy.

“Going forward, we require a regional electricity system operator and planner that is a committed partner in our decarbonization efforts,” the letter said.

It’s first action item listed? “Proactively develop market-based mechanisms, in concert with state policymakers, that facilitate growth in clean energy resources and enabling services, while fully accounting for on-going renewable energy investments made pursuant to enacted state laws.”

The letter also shows the governors have studied what the future will likely look like, and see a need for change.

“Long-range modeling efforts conducted in our States are providing an increasingly clear picture of the electricity system that will be needed to support deep economy-wide decarbonization. The gap between our current system and the system we need to achieve deep decarbonization is marked,” they said.

AMONG THE LIVING

On Friday during the COVID-19 briefing, a reporter noted that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he would not be voting for fellow Republican Donald Trump for president , but instead would write in the late Ronald Reagan.

There’s two problems with Hogan’s choice.

First, Reagan served two terms as president and is ineligible to run.

Second, Reagan died in 2004. If he were alive, he’d be 109 years old.

With that as the backdrop, the reporter asked Scott who he’s voting for -- and who he might write in if he’s not satisfied with the choices on the ballot.

“I will not be voting for President Trump,” Scott said. “I have not made up my mind, but rest assured whoever I decide to write in, it will be a living person.”

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.

Greg Sukiennik joined New England Newspapers as a reporter at The Berkshire Eagle in 1995. He worked for The AP in Boston, and at ESPN.com, before rejoining NENI in 2016. He was managing editor of all three NENI Vermont newspapers from 2017-19.


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