By Guy Page
Vermont and eight other northeastern states and the District of Columbia will develop a regional plan to cap and reduce transportation fossil fuel emissions, a Washington, D.C., environmental group announced yesterday.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative “would require fuel distributors to buy pollution permits for some of the carbon they produce,” the Boston Globe reported Wednesday. If so, fuel distributors would likely pass along the cost of these permits to consumers, meaning Vermont drivers would pay more at the gas pump. In effect, it would be a carbon tax. The TCI website doesn’t use the word “tax” but instead refers to “a cap-and-invest program or other pricing mechanism.”
Vermont already belongs to a similar multi-state agreement for electricity generation, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). However, there is a crucial difference: Under RGGI, Vermont is a winner because it burns very little fossil fuel instate to make electricity. But with transportation, the opposite is true. Because Vermont is a cold-weather, rural state where drivers prefer relatively gas-guzzling all-wheel drive vehicles, Vermonters — especially rural Vermonters — would be losers in any scheme that financially punishes high per capita consumption of gasoline and diesel.
The agreement gives the 10 signatories a year to design a plan, at which point each state would decide whether to adopt the policy. A Dec. 18 statement by the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) said:
“A coalition of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia today announced their intent to design a new regional low-carbon transportation policy proposal that would cap and reduce carbon emissions from the combustion of transportation fuels, and invest proceeds from the program into low-carbon and more resilient transportation infrastructure.
“Today’s statement, endorsed by Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., describes the goals of such a program, including reducing climate changing pollution, creating economic opportunity, and improving transportation equity for currently underserved and overburdened populations. It also sets a goal of completing the policy design process within one year, after which each jurisdiction will decide whether to adopt and implement the policy.”
The TCI is the work of the Georgetown Climate Center, an environmental program of Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C. The TCI held six public “listening sessions” in the northeast earlier this year, but none in Vermont, its website said. TCI said government officials from Vermont attended some listening sessions.
The TCI website includes this supportive quote from Peter Walke, Deputy Secretary, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources:
“Addressing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector requires working together across state lines. Vermont cannot afford to go it alone. The Transportation and Climate Initiative has provided a forum for the northeast U.S. to work together to address these issues. Vermont is pleased to take this next step and begin working with our partner states to develop a specific policy proposal to address transportation emissions. We want to be part of that discussion, and we want to understand how this will impact all Vermonters, so we can make an informed decision moving forward. I want to thank the Georgetown Climate Center and our colleagues from across the northeast who have come together to make progress on this important issue.”
As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, neither the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources nor the office of Gov. Phil Scott had issued statements about Vermont’s participation in the TCI.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.