The Word in the House 2/27/2020 - Climate Action, Act 250 Changes and Cannabis

After weeks of hard work the Vermont House passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688) with a solid 105 to 37 vote. This bill, the subject of last week’s article which can be found here, is the product of the House Energy & Technology Committee chaired by Representative Tim Briglin of Thetford. It will become the foundation for Vermont’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with the 2016 Paris Climate Treaty.

While the first reduction target is set for 2025 when we require GHG emissions to be 26% below 2005 levels, we can’t assume it will happen without further energy policy changes. These changes must include increases in renewable energy generation beyond our current target of 75% by 2032. Since GHG reduction will mean electrification of a major part of our transportation and heating requirements, we need our electricity to be as carbon-free as well as locally generated as possible. Solar and wind energy generated near the demand for its use with energy storage capability will improve grid reliability and efficiency and provide well-paying jobs for Vermonters. Even before the Climate Council created by the bill develops the plan for carbon reduction, we can directly impact GHG emissions by continuing the EV incentives and residential weatherization assistance in the Governor’s budget.

While the Energy & Technology Committee will continue working on energy policy, other Committees in the House are also hard at work. Before the Town Meeting break several other committees will report out bills that should get a lot of attention.  One bill contains revisions to Act 250 that the Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee has been working on for two years. Another is the Senate bill on regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana that has been under consideration by the House Government Operations Committee since last year.

The Act 250 revision (H.926) seeks to exempt designated downtowns from Act 250 review and modify criteria to include climate adaptation and mitigation.  A controversial provision to create a statewide professional three-member Act 250 Review Board that would handle all major projects was eliminated by the House Ways and Means Committee as of this writing because of concerns that the provision would make it harder for public participation in the process. The Natural Resources Committee had proposed a hybrid system that would add two regional members of the project’s District Review Board to the three-member panel for major project consideration. Elimination of the provision reverts review back to the regional District Review Boards while retaining the environmental-oriented and downtown development changes.

The Cannabis Tax and Regulate bill (S.54) worked its way through the Government Operations and Ways and Means Committees and is now in the Appropriations Committee. The highlights of the bill’s provisions include creation of a Cannabis Control Board which will make recommendations for any legislation needed to implement the system starting in 2022, issue licenses, and control advertising, product quality and testing. To protect highway safety every law enforcement officer will receive 16 hours of training in impaired driving assessment by the end of 2021, and the number of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) will be increased.  Field sobriety test results and Drug Recognition Expert evaluation results will be admissible in court. The proposal currently includes an excise tax of 14% and the sales tax of 6% on retail sales. Local option taxes will apply as well.  The 6% sales tax will go to the Education Fund which will help all towns.  

More information on these bills will be posted to my website. I welcome your emails (, phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.