By Sue Deppe
Humans have been burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) for many decades and dumping their waste products into the atmosphere for free. This increase in carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases is overwhelming Earth’s ability to absorb it and creating chaos in geophysical, chemical and biological systems that support life. A changing climate, melting icecaps and glaciers, ocean acidification, and collapsing ecosystems are well-documented and the consequences are frightening.
One of the most effective ways to deal with climate change is to put a price on carbon. This is the goal of two bills introduced in the Vermont Legislature in 2015. For years, economists across the political spectrum have recommended this type of tax on undesirable options to incentivize changes in behavior. The Vermont legislation focuses on carbon emissions from the burning of fuels such as heating oil, gasoline and natural gas. The tax will be levied at the distributor level, starting low and ramping up over 10 years.
Many have asked whether a rise in fuel prices will hurt low-income Vermonters and our economy. It won’t, if done correctly. Ninety percent of the tax would be returned to us in several ways: a reduction in the sales and use tax; a flat tax credit to every adult Vermonter; additional rebates for people at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level; and a per-employee rebate for all businesses, non-profits, schools and municipalities. Ten percent of the money collected will go into a fund to help Vermonters lower their fossil fuel use and energy costs with low-income weatherization programs, energy efficiency, transportation efficiency and renewable energy projects.
The good news is that these projects will create more than 2,000 new jobs for Vermonters that cannot be outsourced, according to an independent analysis. The law would also increase Vermont’s gross state product by nearly $100 million. Right now, 80 percent of the money we spend on fossil fuels leaves Vermont! And we are at the mercy of inevitable price swings for those commodities, which will not always be cheap. It’s far better to add jobs that keep money right here, help us use less fuel, and make us more self-sufficient in the face of climate change.
Almost all of the folks who do energy audits, weatherization, electrical, heating, plumbing and energy efficiency work here are Vermonters, as are many in the renewable energy sector. These are good Vermont jobs that pay Vermont taxes.
Weatherizing homes increases comfort and lowers fuel use. People can easily pay off those improvements in their savings over time; low-income people get extra help with this. Efficient lighting, solar thermal hot water, air-source heat pumps and heat pump water heaters generate huge savings on space heating, air conditioning, water heating and lighting. If powered by solar or other renewable sources, they lower fossil fuel use even more. And the more renewable electricity we generate locally, the more resilient our power system is.
Solar panels work especially well on hot summer days, decreasing the need to buy expensive “peak load” power. The price of solar panels has dropped roughly 75 percent over the past six years. They are nearly at grid parity — cost-competitive with other sources of power generation like coal or natural gas. As we drive down our greenhouse gas footprint, we do our part to leave a livable planet for all who come after us.
British Columbia has had a carbon pollution tax since 2008, and it has worked very well. Their economy is doing better than the national average, and their corporate tax rates are some of Canada’s lowest. They benefit enormously from using less energy. Clean tech and renewable energy companies are coming to Vancouver specifically because of the carbon tax.
Please get all the facts on the carbon pollution tax. Bring your questions to an educational forum Wednesday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m. at the Colchester Meeting House, next to the Burnham Library, on Main Street. RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at http://www.energyindependentvt.org.
Sue Deppe is chairwoman of the Colchester Energy Task Force. You can reach her at email@example.com or 658.7441.