John McClaughry’s Rebuttal and Closing Statement vs. VPIRG

On December 3, the Ethan Allen Institute debated representatives of the Energy Independence Vermont coalition over whether or not Vermont should enact a Carbon Tax. The following are the formal remarks made by EAI vice president and founder, John McClaughry. 

RebuttalDebate Team

According to our opponents, one side of this debate consists of those who embrace climate science. That would be our side. I have a degree with honors in physics and a masters in nuclear engineering.  I have followed scientific issues for fifty years or more, and I am firmly committed to real climate science – not to be confused with the kind of climate propaganda peddled by our opponents at VPIRG.

Our opponents advocate enacting a carbon tax on what Paul Burns calls dirty fossil fuels – heating fuel, gasoline, diesel, propane and natural gas that will impose a $10 per metric ton tax in 2017 automatically rising to $100 by 2027. According to their REMI study, that should yield $500 million a year – assuming energy dependent businesses in Vermont don’t pack up and leave.

In 2019 the predicted revenue stream would be about $100 million. The bill promises that 90 % of this, after collection costs, would be refunded to various people through various mechanisms.  The remaining ten percent would go to fund the weatherization and renewable energy subsidies that the state can’t make Vermont Yankee pay for any more.

The coalition banner behind our opponents proclaims “Polluters pay!” Who actually pays the carbon tax will not be the fossil fuel companies, but the customers  who buy the fossil fuels, until the high prices caused by the carbon tax force them to switch, which is the whole point of the carbon tax.

One of the bill’s backers has described the bill as “essentially revenue neutral”. Calling this tax revenue neutral is dishonest, and calling it essentially revenue neutral is essentially dishonest. This bill means more money for government to spend, and less money for you to spend, unless you are one of the lucky ones qualifying for state subsidies.

Now let me put this to you: do you trust the Vermont legislature to keep this deal?

For the past five years the legislature has faced enormous budget shortfalls. It has desperately raised taxes and robbed funds to cover those shortfalls. Once again the legislature is facing a $100 million shortfall primarily due to runaway Medicaid spending. With this bill in effect there will appear a big fat revenue stream from the automatically rising carbon tax. Legislators will be asking “Do we give 90% of the tax dollars back to the taxpayers as promised by the carbon tax law? Or do we grab it to cover this year’s pressing deficit?”

Here’s the letter sent to legislators in November 2014 by the Energy Independence coalition. Down at the bottom of the letter it innocuously observes: “Based on legislative priorities, carbon tax revenue could of course also be used for other purposes.” Let me translate that for you: “even if you don’t buy our carbon pollution argument, this tax will raise tons of money, that you can get your hands on to close budget gaps and reward your favorite constituencies.” That’s like leaving a note on your windshield in a high crime neighborhood, reading “Attention: this car is unlocked and the keys are inside”.

And the interests that get the carbon tax money will do a lot more to protect their legislators for perpetrating the theft, than will the unorganized taxpayers in general who will find out a year later that their promised tax reductions have disappeared.

Whatever you believe about the menace of climate change, this whole scheme will cripple the job producing businesses in the state, or even in the region, that goes it alone, it will reduce economic growth in the state, it will send more Vermonters fleeing across the borders to shop, and its promises to reduce tax rates – even if well-intended by the sponsors – are highly unlikely ever to be kept. The scheme will have no detectable effect on averting the parade of climate horrors that VPIRG keeps frightening us with. Not much here to like.

Closing Argument

First, we thank Energy Independence Vermont for meeting us in the program this evening.

Yes, we believe that climate change, whatever that is, is real, whatever that means. But in the cold light of reason it seems clear to us that imposing a $500 million a year tax on beneficial plant food will cripple Vermont’s economy, place a special burden on people in rural areas, and on truckers and equipment operators who aren’t going to drive battery powered trucks and tractors   – especially when a desperate legislature diverts the promised tax reductions to pay for ballooning costs of ever bigger government – and especially when the effect on global temperatures will be utterly undetectable.

The renewable industrial complex, of which VPIRG is apparently a wholly owned subsidiary, needs to make a living by satisfying its customers, rather than trying to get rich on rigged sweetheart deals arranged by the interests promoting this bill, at the expense of the rest of us.

Yes, sometimes Vermont should set an example, like we did when we abolished slavery. But setting the example of crippling the shaky economy of our little state solely so we can claim that we nobly sacrificed the interests of our population to indetectably advance the grand global crusade against climate change, simply to get some kind of bragging rights, is beyond foolish.

Can we scrap this misbegotten carbon tax, and focus on making Vermonters prosperous again? Yes, we can!

John McClaughry is vice president and founder of the Ethan Allen Institute


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Donka December 4, 2015 at 10:27 pm

Greta closing John. I wish I could have attended but had other engagements(Work). I am sure VPRIG painted a Rosie picture that was false. Thanks for all your hard work.


Robert December 5, 2015 at 9:22 pm


As always very grateful for your cogent contributions to debunk the nonsense that as you say is peddled by the likes of VPIRG. They play on the emotions of decent people who have a need to be seen as earth-friendly. Unfortunately to do so they must throw reason and real science out the window. I think pretty soon most rational people will have had enough of the svengali shenanigans of the loopy legislature and self-interest groups like VPIRG. When people have to forgo their vacations and cut back their retirement contributions to pay for a nothing burger so the government can continue unbridled and unchecked spending the climate hoax party will abruptly end.


Robert December 5, 2015 at 9:25 pm

Oh, one other thing……I’m doubling my contribution to EAI this year to thank you for the organization’s undying commitment to economic balance in our state.


diane ballou May 20, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Can’t be bothered being more of a geek, so these comments are in all the innaproprite places. Sorry. Still waiting for a ship to come in, so I also casend a bigger donation. Happy Spring to all.


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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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