Commentary: Carbon Tax Back As a Top Issue for 2020 (November, 2019)

by Rob RoperRob Roper

When the gavel fell on the 2019 legislative session with the house and senate deadlocked over the $15 minimum wage and a Paid Family Leave program, most of us thought those two issues would be front and center this January when the legislature reconvenes. But it doesn’t appear that Vermont’s highly vocal climate change activists will allow that to be the case. They want a carbon tax, and they want it now!

This all began with the Climate Strike and Week of Action at the end of September, a kind of primal scream of civil disruption preceding the all-out banzai charge to pass an economy-killing package of climate legislation that will achieve approximately nothing in terms of impacting future climate trends.

At the Renewable Energy Conference on October 11, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger (D), flanked by VPIRG, called for a massive, statewide carbon tax on Vermonters, which would ultimately lead to a roughly $1.70 per gallon tax on home heating and vehicle fuels. The proposal is similar to the carbon tax proposed by VPIRG back in 2014 only larger in scope and cost.

This latest proposal would start with a $30 per ton tax on CO2 emissions and rise at a rate of inflation plus 10 percent each year until 2034, after which point it would rise at inflation plus 5 percent indefinitely. This translates into roughly a 30 cent per gallon tax on home heating and vehicle fuels rising to $1.70 per gallon by 2034, and then on ad infinitum. If Vermonters didn’t like the first carbon tax proposal (and they didn’t), they will like this one even less.

A week after Weinberger’s announcement, a group from the Extinction Rebellion camped out for a few days on the State House lawn in hopes that their spectacle would intimidate lawmakers into taking “bold action” on climate. One rebel was quoted, “As we all know, last legislative season was a disaster for climate change. There just was total inaction. And so at this point, we’re saying we don’t trust the government to protect us. And we’re here not asking anymore. We’re demanding.” (VT Digger, 10/18/19)

But what they are demanding – net zero CO2 emissions by 2025 — is insanely unrealistic. The cost in dollars and individual freedom to achieve that, if it’s even possible, would be beyond comprehension.

In 2007, Vermont passed CO2 reductions goals that said we should be 25 percent below our 1990 CO2 output by 2012, 50% below by 2028 and 75% below by 2050. As of now, we are 16 percent above 1990 levels – way off target. This, despite Vermont’s longstanding commitments to renewable energy, subsidies for weatherization and electric vehicles, and generally “green” values.

If we’re nowhere near getting CO2 output to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2028 given all the money we’ve wasted on these programs, how, pray tell, do they expect to get to net-zero by 2025? It would require a totalitarian Green police state seizing control of the economy, forcing every individual to give up their fossil fuel vehicles and heating systems, and squeezing the taxpayers to subsidize replacing all that infrastructure with EVs and electric heat pumps – over just five years! Block all the traffic you want; this is not going to happen.

Regardless of the math and science, some legislators are buying into the agenda. Members of the Climate Caucus, a group of Democrats and Progressives, have been making presentations around the state pushing for adoption of the “Global Warming Solutions Act,” which would take Vermont’s aspirational goals regarding CO2 reduction and make meeting them mandatory under law. Their thinking is that if they can con their peers and the voters into supporting a law mandating the ends, which may sound nice on the surface, the means – any means — will be justified, no matter how wacky or unpopular those means might be. Like, for example, the carbon tax!

Vermont lawmakers have a number of serious issues they needs to resolve in 2020, including a public pension crisis with $4.5 billion in unfunded liabilities, a labor force crisis as young workers leave the state due to the high cost of living, water quality issues threaten our lakes and streams, and, again, the need to finish one way or the other the $15 Minimum wage and Paid Family Leave legislation. The big question is, will house and senate leadership allow these issues to be derailed by a hoard of wailing, disruptive protesters demanding the impossible, or will they politely tell them to go pound sand?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Decelles November 2, 2019 at 1:27 am

Well presented, as usual. And you know what? As a discouraged Vermont conservative, I think, that even our state’s wacky left, can’t and won’t pass anything resembling the latest proposal you describe.

How could they? How can they pass any legislation like this, and then go back home and face their constituents? Even in our deep blue state’s most left-wing districts, won’t legislators consider the politics? I mean, 2020 is an election year. I can’t believe that they could survive November, with a recorded carbon tax “yes” vote, with the resultant jump in gasoline and heating oil prices. . And I’m sure that EAI would do everything possible to inform the impacted voters about such a vote by their representatives (so-called).

Now I’m in the NE Kingdom, where we actually still send Republican legislators to Montpelier! So, maybe, I’m not steeped enough in the politics of the Vermont left, to understand the prevailing climate. But I think that on such a pocketbook issue, most legislators just won’t dare to cast such a vote.

If they do, can magine the outcome in border counties, with Vermonters going to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York, to buy gasoline? Hell, after the increases that are forecasted, gas might even become cheaper in Quebec than in Vermont! I guess we’ll see.


Thaddeus Cline November 2, 2019 at 6:11 am

When even Exxon says Climate change is real and will be with us a long time and says a carbon tax would be a good idea . You know the Deniers Of climate change have a big problem .


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