By Guy Page
To listen to the renewable power industry and its supporters in the Vermont Legislature, you might think carbon taxation is the only certain way to reduce CO2 emissions. But even carbon tax activist Bill McKibben concedes that carbon emissions have actually increased in some carbon-taxed jurisdictions, according to a 2016 paper he wrote in a Yale University publication. Given carbon taxation’s unpopularity and iffy track record, the State of Vermont might want to consider other, more taxpayer-friendly paths to emissions reduction.
None of the 10 ideas listed below would seize money from Vermonters for redistribution. All are designed to create consumer choice, jobs and tax revenue and significantly reduce emissions. So before taxing carbon emissions, the state of Vermont should consider these ideas:
1. Invite the private sector to provide low-emissions public transportation. For example, the State could encourage municipalities with bike paths to welcome privately-owned, tax-paying bike-sharing businesses. Giving people this choice will reduce emissions and wear and tear on roads.
2. Invite California, the Freeway & Forest Fires State, to expand its “carbon storage” investment in Vermont’s carbon-chomping woodlands. The Golden State could pay Vermont rural landowners to grow trees to consume the C02 produced by their forest fires and millions of cars idling every morning in big-city traffic jams. Just as Vermont homeowners pool their money to join “community solar,” let small Vermont landowners pool their acreage into large, on-paper woodlots for “community carbon storage.” Responsible management, including logging, would ensure high numbers of young, carbon-hungry trees, and reduce carbon-producing, forest-fire enhancing deadfall.
3. Publish a directory of all cars and trucks listing their lifecycle fuel efficiency which takes into account all emissions generated during construction, operation, and decommissioning. As with energy generation plants, vehicle carbon emissions is best measured over the lifecycle. For example, the small, light gasoline-powered Mitsubishi Mirage has lower lifecycle emissions than a Tesla Roadster. Who knew? Educating Vermonters about lifecycle emissions will empower them to make the wisest purchasing choices. For example, Vermont owners of cars with emissions front-loaded in construction would naturally wish to undercoat them, to extend their relatively low-emissions operational life.
4. Wait patiently for the electric car industry to mature in quality, cost, and winter road-worthiness. A representative from Addison County swears by the winter handling, comfort and fuel-efficiency of her all-wheel drive hybrid Subaru. Such a car did not exist just a few years ago. Even better cars are in development. Rather than incur buyer resistance through heavy-handed taxation, the State of Vermont should “go with the flow” and wait for electric cars (or other ultra-low emissions transportation) to become a customer no-brainer.
Two summers ago a South Burlington Nissan dealership offered a huge rebate for its electric Leaf that dropped the price point to just over $10,000 for a new car. They promptly sold out. Legislators, take note: you don’t need to twist our arms, because Vermonters will gladly buy electric when it makes sense.
5. To ensure a steady supply of low-carbon, affordable electricity, Vermont state government and utility leaders must support continued operation of the region’s two remaining nuclear power plants, Millstone in Connecticut and Seabrook in New Hampshire. Vermont utilities now obtain significant amounts of power from both plants. Losing these plants due to the (for now) ultra-low cost of natural gas power would deprive New England of four times the total power of all grid-tied solar and wind power combined. It also would increase the likelihood of a power blackout during an extended cold snap.
6. Buy more low-emissions Canadian hydro-electricity. Building more long-distance transmission would be expensive, but the alternative of wind/solar/battery power appears even costlier.
7. Say “No” to commercial marijuana. The U.S. marijuana industry consumes enough electricity to power 250,000 homes per year, the Colorado Sun reported Jan. 3. More than half of greater Denver, Colorado’s new power demand is used to marijuana, which demands huge amounts of electricity for light, heating and air-conditioning. Worse, many pot greenhouses pump CO2 into the air to stimulate plant growth. For carbon emissions alone, it’s a nightmare industry.
8. Promote voluntary offsets. Ben & Jerry’s reports on its website, “in 2002, we launched a carbon offsets program for our Vermont manufacturing facilities.” The State of Vermont should help other businesses, not-for-profits and individuals willingly buy offsets, the proceeds of which can be used to winterize homes and in general make low-carbon living more affordable.
9. Consolidate the inventory of State of Vermont buildings. According to a VT Buildings and Grounds spreadsheet, the State of Vermont owns 1,675 buildings. The State could determine which energy-consuming buildings could close or be sold, with state employees assigned there moved to more energy-efficient surroundings. This would be consistent with proposed Act 250 revisions to move Vermonters into smaller, more fuel-efficient homes.
10. Use distance learning to reduce school heating, power and transportation emissions. Rather than expand traditional, expensive “bricks and mortar” educational facilities, Vermont school districts could add selective, low-cost internet-based distance learning to its toolbox for reducing carbon emissions. Instead of always transporting teachers and students to inflict wear and tear on classrooms and buildings that must be heated, powered and maintained, the school district could seek innovative ways to connect students and teachers via the internet.
These are just a few ideas. I welcome Vermonters’ ideas to help the economy and the climate without imposing a carbon tax. Our Legislature is very aware of Vermont’s role as a climate leader. Putting into practice ideas that promote both prosperity and clean air — now that’s leadership.
Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.