Energy bill compromise targeted for veto session

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(Host) Democratic and Republican leaders are trying negotiate a compromise energy bill that could be considered in next week’s veto session of the Legislature.

The negotiations are intense but both sides say they’re concerned that politics may overshadow the policies they’re trying to implement.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Because it’s likely the Vermont House will fail to override Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of a comprehensive energy bill in next week’s special session – there’s a lot of attention focused on what will happen next.

The general framework for a compromise is emerging. The proposal would include a bill passed by the House that encourages the development of renewable and alternative energy sources.

The compromise would also authorize the appropriation of 750,000 dollars to expand existing weatherization programs – that’s a plan the governor proposed last month.

And the proposal would direct the Public Service Board to make recommendations concerning the structure of an all fuels efficiency utility and suggest ways to pay for this program. Lawmakers would consider these recommendations during the 2008 session.

Waterbury Rep. Robert Dostis is the chairman of the House Natural Resources committee. He says it’s critical that any compromise specifically commits the state to an expanded efficiency program beginning in 2009:

(Dostis) “The reason is the current contract with Efficiency Vermont expires at the end of 2008. So we have an opportunity starting January of ’09 to have a new structure in place providing services that will help Vermont reduce our use of fossil fuels and hopefully save us money.”

(Kinzel) Shelburne Republican, Joyce Errecart, has been directly involved in the negotiations. She thinks it’s possible to reach a compromise with the Democrats:

(Errecart) “There’s a lot of room to negotiate. And if we really care and want to encourage renewable energy and make more energy conservation and efficiency in Vermont, we could make a bill pretty quickly. But because it’s become so partisan, I’m concerned we may not be able to do it. But I sure want to do it.”

(Kinzel) Senate president pro tem Peter Shumlin believes the governor can be persuaded to support a compromise approach:

(Shumlin) “I just think that the governor is out of touch with most Vermonters. And his position is out of touch with our values of protecting the environment, of leading the country in terms of getting off of our addiction to oil and making a commitment to reducing our contribution to global warming. I think it’s so far out of step that he has to come our way before this is over.”

(Kinzel) If a compromise can’t be reached and if the Democrats try to proceed without Republican support, House Minority leader Steve Adams says his caucus always has the power to block the rules suspensions that would be needed to consider any new bill.

(Adams) “Rules suspensions require a three quarters vote. I’m not saying that we’re going to block rules suspension. But that’s always a possibility. My personal philosophy is policy over politics. And that’s how I want to continue with as we progress along with this bill.”

(Kinzel) Lawmakers will return to the Statehouse next Wednesday to consider the governor’s veto of the energy bill and campaign finance reform legislation.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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