Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act
In September 2020, the Vermont State Legislature passed the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688),1 which requires the state to pursue climate solutions that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and support environmental and economic resilience. Specifically, the act transforms Vermont's existing GHG emission reduction goals into legal requirements and orders the development of the state’s first Climate Action Plan to identify strategies to reduce state GHG emissions, build healthy and resilient communities, and adapt to Vermont's already-changing climate. Notably, the act includes a provision that allows private citizens to bring a lawsuit against the state government upon the state's failure to adopt or update any rules necessary to implement the Climate Action Plan, including for failure to promulgate rules necessary to implement adaptation or resilience actions, in order to require the state to comply with the act. The act also has a noteworthy focus on equity and ensuring that resilience building programs are accessible to rural, low-income, and marginalized communities.
The act explicitly states that "adaptation and resilience measures are necessary to address climate risks" in Vermont. The act created the Vermont Climate Council (Council)2 and tasked it with developing Vermont's first Climate Action Plan to address those climate risks. Strategies to adapt to climate change and increase the resilience of Vermont's communities, infrastructure, and economy will be presented in the Climate Action Plan, which must be adopted by December 1, 2021. The Council will form several subcommittees to support development of the Climate Action Plan. Additionally, the act requires that the Council update the Climate Action Plan every four years.
The act is also noteworthy because of its strong commitment to equity. The Vermont State Legislature recognized that the climate crisis "disproportionately impacts rural and marginalized, disenfranchised, and disinvested communities," which already bear disproportionate environmental, economic, and public health burdens, and found that adaptation and resilience strategies must prioritize investment of public resources in those communities. Additionally, the act requires that all strategies identified in the Climate Action Plan minimize negative impacts on marginalized and rural communities and low- to moderate-income individuals.
Further, two subcommittees on the Council are tasked with ensuring that strategies identified in the Climate Action Plan are equitable. The Rural Resilience and Adaptation Subcommittee must identify how adaptation programs could burden rural resources and infrastructure and will also focus on the difficulties rural communities face in meeting their citizens' needs. Relatedly, the Just Transitions Subcommittee will ensure that strategies identified in the Climate Action Plan consider climate change's disproportionate impacts on rural, low-income, and marginalized communities and that any programs for building resilience are accessible to all citizens and do not disproportionately burden any groups.
The act requires the Vermont Secretary of Natural Resources to adopt rules consistent with the Climate Action Plan by December 1, 2022. Notably, the act includes a provision that allows private citizens to bring a lawsuit against the state government upon the failure of the Secretary of Natural Resources to adopt or update rules necessary to implement the Climate Action Plan. If the claim succeeds, a court could order the Secretary of Natural Resources to adopt or update rules to implement the Climate Action Plan. Plaintiffs may also recover costs and attorney's fees from bringing the action.
- Adaptation plan
1. The act amends the following statutory provisions: VT. Stat. Ann. tit. 10 §§ 578, 590-594; VT. Stat. Ann. tit. 30 §§ 202a, 202b.
2. The Council is composed of twenty-three members which represent different industry sectors, communities, and levels of government. Fifteen council members are appointed by the Vermont State Legislature, and the remaining eight members are administration appointees with expertise in environmental conservation, human services, community development, and public safety.