MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -When the subject turns to global warming, Gov. Jim Douglas has joked more than once that “Vermont is the only New England state without a seacoast – yet.”
That attitude is part of his problem, critics say. He doesn’t take it seriously enough.
If one thing becaome clear in the recent debate over energy legislation, it’s that Vermont’s Republican governor and its Democrat-controlled Legislature differ on the urgency of climate change.
A day after lawmakers failed to override Douglas’ veto of a bill designed to reduce heating emissions and costs through efficiency measures, Douglas chided lawmakers for holding a mid-summer special session that brought lawmakers backided to come back in the middle of the summer, when people are trying to enjoy themselves, when they’re focused on Homer Simpson and Harry Potter, having a nice time in the beautiful environment that we enjoy here, and spend some $60,000 of the taxpayers’ money to have a special day in the Legislature, to not override my vetoes,” he said.
Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, said Douglas may live to regret the comment about Homer Simpson and Harry Potter.
“He’s trying to ask them (lawmakers) to sort of lighten up. However, these remarks are not going to lighten them up, they’re going to infuriate them,” said Nelson, who called climate change “a potential polarizer, in a state that hasn’t had a polarizing issue since civil unions.”
Douglas insists he has taken climate change seriously, appointing a commission to study it, defending California-style vehicle emission standards in federal court and taking other steps.
Nelson said the energy bill, which would have imposed a new tax on Vermont Yankee and created a new heating conservation system modeled on what Efficiency Vermont does for electricity, played right into the suspicions many Republicans and business leaders have about the climate change issue.
“The pro-corporate types see this environmental stuff as creeping governmentalism. Under the green banner are really lurking socialists who want government to restrict corporate power … crypto-socialists masquerading as environmentalists,” said Nelson.
He has countered lawmakers’ plan for an “all-fuels efficiency utility” with a more modest expansion of the state weatherization program.
But he also repeatedly called on lawmakers to get past the climate change issue and focus on his agenda of job creation, lowering taxes and making Vermont more affordable.
Democrats maintain that they are the real guardians of the state’s economy.
They point to fast-growing companies like NRG Systems Inc. of Hinesburg, which makes testing equipment for the wind power industry, as well as to the jobs they said would have been created insulating houses and upgrading boilers had their bill become law.
The bill “had to do with creating job opportunities for Vermonters,” House Speaker Gaye Symington said. “It had to do with helping to make energy more affordable for Vermonters, as well as reducing our carbon footprint, which is critical to our economy in the long run.”
An open question is whether Vermonters care as much about climate change as legislative leaders think they should, and whether Douglas’ veto of an energy bill aimed at addressing it will cost him at the ballot box.
Democrats, who spent the first three weeks of the legislative session on global warming presentations and hearings only to see the resulting legislation die, are vowing to try again in January.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin said the bill will be tougher than this year’s bill; Symington says will be “more comprehensive” to deal with what Shumlin describes as a threat to civilization as Vermonters know it.
Douglas has made clear he won’t stand for any climate change bill that raises taxes.
Do Democrats hope to use a 2008 climate change bill to turn up the heat on Douglas?
Neither Symington nor Shumlin would say. For Symington, it’s all about what she sees as the merits of the issue.
As for Shumlin, he says climate change transcends politics.
“This is about will there be snow on Vermont’s mountains in 50 years. Will we have a ski industry, a maple syrup industry? … You don’t ask someone who’s been born again about the politics of following Jesus.”