Vermont’s Climate Crusade is Futile with or without GWSA

February 6, 2020

By David Flemming

Under the GWSA, Vermont looks to continue its crusade to end climate change. But such weapons are far more likely to be turned on Vermonters than to actually impact the climate.

On Wednesday, January 29, House Judiciary Committee asked for advice about the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) from Robert McDougall and Laura Murphy, who work under VT Attorney General TJ Donovan.

One of the most insightful observations about the GWSA came from Rep. Matthew Trieber (D-Rockingham) “This is one of the most broad pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen. And I say that as someone who signed to the bill. I’m having a hard time seeing how someone wouldn’t be injured.” Kudos to Triber for being willing to critique a bill that has his name on it.

Let’s go down that rabbit hole for a moment. The GWSA is “broad” in the sense of transferring law-making authority from the Legislature to the executive bureaucracy and the judiciary. The only limit to this ‘transferred’ authority must be found under a GWSA “legally enforceable system by which Vermont will reduce its statewide greenhouse gas emissions.”

And this ‘limit,’ is really no limit at all.

After all, can we identify any Vermonters who aren’t being “injured” by climate change? As Rep. Trieber admits, the state would “have a hard time” showing there is no “injury” to a Vermonter grappling with the many environmental and economic downturns we can blame climate change for.

Such being the case, anyone who sues the state will have every reason to suspect they will be successful. That is, in recovering their attorney’s fees in order to get the state to achieve Vermont’s stated goal of 80-95% reduction from 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2050.

We are being led to believe that reducing Vermont’s carbon emissions must be accomplished at all costs. This is the supposedly sensible limit to the ambition of the climate lobby and their legislators. For sake of argument, let’s say we get that 80-95%. To be generous, let’s grant that Vermont achieves net 0 carbon emissions by 2050.

And yet, will Vermonters be shielded from the consequences of the supposed “injury” once we reach net zero? For two reasons, the answer is a definitive NO.

First, if we accept the linkage between carbon emissions and climate change, collective action still remains a problem. All 200+ countries in the world produce some level of carbon emissions. Even if a majority of countries to reduce their emissions, Vermonters would still suffer the consequences of climate change regardless of what Vermont’s Legislature does with our 0.1% share of emissions. Who gets elected President won’t change that. And yet, if these countries do not act, Vermont’s government and by extension, the taxpayers, will be liable for whatever attorneys fees a judge thinks are appropriate under the GWSA.

Second, net zero in 2050 will not be enough. Vermont has put thousands of pounds of carbon emissions into the atmosphere during the past couple centuries. It would become our mission to “draw down” those emissions using mandates for planting vegetation and engineering soil that will suck our ‘debt of past emissions’ from the atmosphere. Such measures have been discussed at the Legislature in recent years.

The Global Warming Solutions Act is a draconian anti-democratic piece of legislation. And yet, even such a drastic measure will not begin to remove the “injury” which can be used to justify suing the state under the GWSA. Is Vermont ready to mortgage our economic future on a climate crusade, when the goal we aim to achieve is something almost completely beyond Vermont’s control? Especially when such bills subvert the representative democratic process?

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike February 9, 2020 at 4:47 pm

If GWSA in the eyes of many weren’t looked upon as the be all and end all to fix climate change, the whole issue would be comical. All GWSA will accomplish would be to exert harmful expenses on the folks, most of whom can not afford it.


dave February 15, 2020 at 5:12 pm

Lets not forget changing climate is the norm , the Earth over millions and millions of years has always had significant alterations in its climate , and will continue long after we are gone . Its more the rate of change that can make it difficult for us to adjust and accommodate for which the GWSA crusade will have no impact


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