By Guy Page
Even as Vermont legislative leaders and our governor insist they have no plans to push a carbon tax, the state of Vermont is participating in a multi-state initiative that will almost certainly by this December recommend a carbon tax on transportation fuels.
Vermont’s participation in the Transportation and Climate Initiative has been active since at least 2018 and has buy-in from all three branches of Vermont State Government: explicit support from the Legislature and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), and strong implicit encouragement from the chair of the Vermont Public Utilities Commission, the state’s “energy court.”
The northeastern state Transportation and Climate Initiative, facilitated by the Georgetown Climate Center, describes itself as “a regional low-carbon transportation policy proposal that would cap and reduce carbon emissions from the combustion of transportation fuels through a cap-and-invest program or other pricing mechanism.” … [and]… to complete the policy development process within one year, after which each jurisdiction will decide whether to adopt and implement the policy.”
Phase 3 of the plan — state officials’ review of stakeholder and expert comment — begins today and runs through November. The TCI website says that in Phase 3, “TCI state leadership reviews input from stakeholders and expert analysis to develop specific regional policy options to share with the public, inviting feedback.” Final plan details will be announced in December, allowing each state to decide by 2020 whether to participate.
Illustrated by a photo of two charging electric cars, The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources – TCI website page outlines the planning process:
1. By end of 2019: complete and publicly release a policy proposal.
2. By end of 2020 (if VT concurs): Vermont General Assembly enacts enabling legislation and begins to explore potential investment scenarios.
In plain English, Vermont transportation fuel dealers (and the drivers who buy their gasoline and diesel fuel) will pay for exceeding an arbitrary “cap” which will get smaller every year. It’s supposed to “incentivize” drivers to buy less gas/diesel and maybe buy a TCI-subsidized electric car instead. But whether they do or they don’t, the State of Vermont will get a big chunk of change from TCI that it can spend on car charging stations, EV subsidies, etc.
The ANR website compares TCI to another regional cap and trade system in which Vermont participates, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which every year pumps a million or so dollars into state coffers. But that comparison has a fatal flaw: Vermont pays virtually nothing into RGGI because we have virtually no fossil-fuel producing electricity power plants.
In other words, RGGI is all gravy for Vermont. Not so the TCI, because Vermont has hundreds of thousands of carbon-emitting tailpipes attached to cars and trucks, many of them driven by rural Vermonters who need them to get to work, school and stores. Vermont is a big RGGI winner and a terrible TCI loser. We are a high-carbon emitting state for the transportation sector. In the picturesque words of one Vermont state senator, under TCI Vermont will be one of the states that “carries the bricks.”
The Vermont Legislature in the 2019 Transportation Bill (Act 59) authorized ANR to participate in TCI planning: “This act, through the spending authorization for the Policy and Planning Program, supports staff work in collaboration with the Agency of Natural Resources to negotiate the Transportation and Climate Initiative agreement with other participating jurisdictions. TCI jurisdictions are negotiating a regional low-carbon transportation policy proposal that would cap and reduce carbon emissions from the combustion of transportation fuels through a cap-and-invest program or other pricing mechanism and allow each TCI jurisdiction to invest proceeds from the program into low-carbon and more resilient transportation infrastructure.”
The TCI plan to spend carbon tax proceeds on “low-carbon transportation infrastructure” should make it an easy sell to PUC chair Anthony Roisman, who on the July 8 Dave Gram Show plugged a July 1 PUC report boosting electric vehicles and urged Vermont to a “war-time footing.” Fair warning from the PUC chair: Vermonters, get ready to sacrifice.
Except for State House Headliners, news coverage of Vermont participation in the TCI has been almost non-existent. The irrepressible John McClaughry blogged about it for the Ethan Allen Institute (Jan. 2 “Here Comes the Carbon Tax Again”). A lengthy July 4 story in Vermont Business Magazine on the virtues of carbon “cap and invest” gave TCI a single paragraph. A VTDigger reporter covered a December 2018 TCI announcement but its news team apparently hasn’t touched the issue since. VPR and Seven Days search engines shows zero hits for news about “TCI Transportation Climate Initiative.” In fact the most recent news about Vermont and the TCI appears in the July 30 American Journal of Transportation, a national trade journal.
Perhaps the shortage of news coverage is just a matter of timing. TCI requires every state to hold a public input meeting. Vermont scheduled and held its meeting on May 14, at the National Life building. The Power Point agenda although not the minutes are available on the ANR/TCI web page. What else was happening on May 14? Not much except the House of Representatives was scheduled to debate bills on the $15 minimum wage and gun control. So if the press was chasing a sexier story, it’s not ANR’s fault.
It’s still not too late to comment on the TCI – there’s an online comment portal. For more information on Vermont carbon taxation in general and to connect with anti-carbon tax activists, go to the No Carbon Tax Vermont Facebook page.
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.