Flemming: ESSEX emissions, tax parasites and poverty

By David Flemming

The ESSEX plan is the latest in a long line of carbon tax proposals, this one with the goal of forcing Vermonters to use and buy more electricity instead of fossil fuels by taxing gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, etc. and using the revenue to subsidize electric rates. Supporters say this will help stave off climate change and, because of low income rebate payments baked into the plan, will be beneficial rather than harmful to the poor.

In reality, neither the ESSEX carbon tax, nor any carbon tax, will improve the lot of Vermont’s poor. Whereas two years ago environmentalists encouraged Vermont legislators to adopt a carbon tax that included an 88-cent tax  per gallon of gas, they are now softening their demands to the tune of a 40-cent tax. A carbon tax that is slightly less cruel to poor Vermonters who drive the oldest cars, which consume the most gas on their long commutes, is hardly reason to support a “new and improved” carbon tax. The ESSEX proposal is not substantively different than the previous proposal, in that those with the lowest incomes will pay the highest taxes.

Since the introduction of ESSEX, environmentalists have tried to tell Vermonters that “we did better than our last carbon tax” by adding low-income rebates for poor Vermont families. Sounds enticing. However, these rebates can only be sizable if, as Johanna Taylor remarked, ESSEX is indeed, “pretty easy to administer, thereby not having too significant of a cost.”

The vast majority of government programs were not created in an attempt to stifle opportunity and hope. And yet, so many programs end up that way because flawed humans with diverging agendas administer them inefficiently. Taylor’s claim should not be judged on her sincere belief that ESSEX is conceptually brilliant, it should be judged on Vermont’s experience with government programs, which to put it nicely, have been “generally in excess of predicted costs.” If ESSEX follows this pattern, newly-hired bureaucrats will receive a good chunk of the rebate money intended for Vermont’s poor.

Efficient government programs are few and far between. When we realize that ESSEX will burrow into every crevice of Vermont’s economy, it is easy to predict that Vermonters may have to endure a festering mass of tax parasites that grow fatter with every passing year, sparing only those who can afford electric cars and solar panels, with little rebate respite. Indeed, the ESSEX Plan proposes to take eight times as much money from taxpayers’ wallets in 2026 as in 2019.

Additionally, while most Vermonters don’t read the academic literature on poverty and climate change for fun, some of the more global studies reach some troubling conclusions. A University of Maryland 2016 study found that lifting people out of poverty will accelerate climate change as more people in third-world countries pull themselves into the middle class and are able to afford modern, life-enhancing conveniences powered by fossil fuels. Progressives that decry rising income inequality have conveniently neglected to mention a Harvard professor’s findings that actual poverty levels around the world are the lowest they’ve ever been. They will have to choose: do we continue allowing fossil-fueled innovations to lift people out of poverty, or do we attempt to slow climate change, sacrificing economic growth?

Attempt is the word. The ESSEX Plan will have roughly zero effect on climate change. Vermont’s percent of carbon emissions for the US sits at 0.1% (in 2015 according to the Energy Information Administration or EIA). Even if we dropped our carbon emissions to 0, there would be no meaningful reduction on US carbon emissions. Even if we believed the argument that policy in the Vermont can dramatically influence federal climate change policy, the US only produces 15% of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, as of 2015, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Still, many Vermonters might say its “better than doing nothing.” Not necessarily. When British Columbia (B.C.) adopted a carbon tax in 2008, hopes were high. The tax was supposed to reduce Canadians’ reliance on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, B.C. now produces more CO2 than it did 2008. Canada, like Vermont, has invested massively in renewable energy to incentivize the phasing out of fossil fuels. Despite these investments, the bang-for-your-buck is generally, still greater for fossil fuels than for renewables. Most Vermonters still rely on fossil fuels to heat their homes and get from point A to B.

Until we admit that climate change should take second fiddle to reducing poverty in Montpelier, the poverty contagion will endure. Instead of worrying about reducing Vermont’s miniscule CO2 outputs, we should be debating the merits of private action and legislation for reducing poverty. When push comes to shove, I would rather not tax the heating fuel that a Vermont family is using to scrape by in the winter, just so that we can pat each other on the back for ‘doing something’ about climate change.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of FEMA/Public domain
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4 thoughts on “Flemming: ESSEX emissions, tax parasites and poverty

  1. The Essex Plan, just another Liberal ” BoonDoggle ” let’s see, Vermont has around
    600K registered Vehicles, this includes all the earth-saving Hybrids !!

    Hey, Hybrids when you’re charging your Batteries and you’re on the tax payer’s
    dime, what’s generating that power ??

    The Liberal Earth-saving States such as California with 31 Million vehicles and our
    New York neighbors 10.5 million vehicles, cry ” Save the world ” and they are the
    biggest problem ( Hypocrites ) they make me laugh !!

    So let’s tax the remaining Vermonters to Death with another tax feel-good policy that
    will have “No” Effect on this skeptical issue………

    It’s June, I’m getting my Snowblower ready for another 75″ of snow this year, Global
    Warming…………………Yeah.

  2. If we could reduce the influence central planners have on our government it would save an enormous amount of energy and wasted endeavor. Just look at the decline our State has been in over the last 50 years since we adopted the Regional Planning model that allows outsiders access to our Municipalities. This is how the UN Agendas are administered to Vermont and the worst part is we are convinced some of this stuff was our idea in the process!

  3. Vermont slowing climate change, If it does a exist is laughable. However, chasing a wind mill does give the Dem/Progs a very warm feeling. No pun intended.

  4. Climate change, if it is changing at all, is a natural occurrence and not the product of carbon emissions. There simply is no proof, but there IS proof that it has happened in the past; and quite often. No. This is just a ploy by our little Communists (dumb Communists, I might add) to get your money to reach their dream to redistribute your wealth (YOUR money; not theirs) and to ‘fundamentally change America.

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