By Rob 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 Oct. 11, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat, 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 we 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 Statehouse lawn in hopes that their spectacle would intimidate lawmakers into taking “bold action” on climate. One rebel was quoted in VTDigger, “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.”
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 percent below by 2028 and 75 percent 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 for starters, forcing every individual to give up their fossil fuel vehicles and heating systems and squeezing the taxpayers dry to subsidize replacing them with electric cars and 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 this 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.
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 become 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 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 that threaten our lakes and streams, and, again, the need to resolve 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. He lives in Stowe.