Energy bill approved

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(Host) After a long and contentious debate, the House has approved a comprehensive energy bill designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The most controversial part of the bill was a tax on power produced at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The House backed the bill – but the vote margin was not large enough to override a likely veto from Governor Jim Douglas.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) At the beginning of the session, legislative leaders made combating climate change their top priority.

Lawmakers called in experts and held three weeks of global warming tutorials. The end result was a bill that sets a goal for Vermont to meet 25% of its energy demand through renewable sources such as biomass and wind by 2025.

It also greatly expands energy conservation programs to reduce the use of fossil fuels for home heating.

The money for these programs would come from a tax on the power generated at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. This proposal set off hours of wrangling on the House floor.

Fair Haven Republican Paul Canfield questioned the Yankee tax.

(Canfield) “Some people in this building feel that they have found a pot of gold and they’re getting ready to go on a shopping trip. But you must remember when you get that gold from your excursion you’ll have to weigh what you purchase compared to what you gave away. This tax will send the wrong message to Vermont’s business community.”

(Dillon) The legislation divided members of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, with several Republicans on the panel speaking against it.

Joyce Errecart is a Republican from Shelburne.

(Errecart) “This bill is cloaked in a great cause – to save the earth. We all want to save the earth. But beneath this noble goal are hidden some very ugly realities. This bill raises taxes and spends money with little accountability.”

(Dillon) But those who spoke in favor of the bill said the legislation ensures oversight of Efficiency Vermont’s new programs. They pointed to the Douglas Administration’s own study that says increased energy conservation could save Vermonters almost $500 million over 10 years.

Waterbury Democrat Robert Dostis chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

(Dostis) “We are talking about economic development, both in terms of creating new jobs, but also in terms of keeping our energy dollars here in the state of Vermont so we can use that for our own economy.”

(Dillon) And Middlebury, Democrat Steve Maier urged his colleagues not to lose sight of the global warming problems the legislation aims to address.

(Maier) “It is already true that because of the fossil fuels we have already burned that the world will be a different place 20, 40, 50 years from now. If we fail to take dramatic action now our children and our grandchildren will be coping with a world that will be unrecognizable to us. It is way past time to act.”

(Dillon) After almost four hours of debate, the bill passed 85 to 61. Governor Jim Douglas opposes the bill. And the vote Friday was 15 votes short of the number needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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