By Rob Roper
VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns has an op-ed in Vermont Digger (and probably other Vermont papers). It’s disappointing that he offers nothing substantial to support the ESSEX carbon tax or to refute the Ethan Allen Institute’s arguments against the scheme. He’s insulting in calling us “nutty” and misleading when he says we are “on the payroll of the fossil fuel industry.” This is completely false. It is worth noting that many VPIRG donors and board members stand to financially benefit from a carbon tax that subsidizes their renewable electricity businesses and/or mandates that Vermonters buy their product.
Burns’ attempts to mislead don’t end with false claims about the Ethan Allen Institute; he misleads Vermonters about the ESSEX carbon tax. Burns says Vermonters “will collectively save a dollar on low-carbon electricity for every additional dollar they pay for polluting fossil fuels.” According to the plan, only 50 percent of the revenue raised would be used to generally reduce electric rates. So, for most Vermonters, this is a scheme that takes $10 from one pocket and puts $5 back into the other. It’s a rip off. The other half of the revenue would be divided between low income rebates (300 percent of poverty or less) and rural rebates for households earning less than $150,000. If you don’t fall into both of these categories — and most Vermonters don’t — you’re screwed under the ESSEX carbon tax.
Even if you are both rural and poor, in most cases you would still have to buy an electric vehicle, solar panels, an electric heat pump or some such thing in order to break even.
Burns says, “Further, the plan is revenue neutral — meaning there is no change in state government spending.” Not really. Yes, the money raised will be redistributed, but only what’s left after the state pockets the overhead for collecting and monitoring the tax. Given how complex this mechanism is, the cost is likely to be very high. The Auditor of Accounts, for example, is charged with conducting at least two audits of the program each year, which by itself will be very expensive.
And, here’s what the bill says regarding electric utilities: “(c) Rate recovery; other provider expenses. A Vermont retail electricity provider shall have the opportunity to recover in retail rates its necessary and reasonable expenses.” Yes, folks, under the ESSEX tax electric companies are authorized to raise your electric rates in order to cover the logistical costs of lowering your electric rates. They take out of one pocket what they put into the other. It’s a scam.
Burns says, “It’s true that the wealthiest and large corporations would pay their fair share as Vermont’s biggest polluters — while low- to moderate-income Vermonters would save money.” This is absolutely false. Ben & Jerry’s is one of Vermont’s wealthiest and largest corporations, and representatives of the company testified that the ice cream maker will net nearly $1 million in subsidies under the ESSEX carbon tax. That money will come from small, less wealthy businesses that rely on gasoline, diesel, and home heating fuel, such as contractors, landscapers, general stores, etc., who will end up paying more.
Of course, having the government force a bunch of small businesses to subsidize their electric bills is good for Ben & Jerry’s business, as Burns notes. But he is not telling the truth when he implies this is good for Vermont business in general. It’s not.
Burns says, “State government isn’t responsible for picking winners or losers.” But under the ESSEX carbon tax the state is picking electric-based businesses (like wealthy Ben & Jerry’s) to be winners, and businesses that rely on trucks, vans, gas ovens and stoves to be losers. Pretending otherwise is insulting people’s intelligence.
The Ethan Allen Institute is willing to have a civil, substantive and honest debate about the details of the ESSEX carbon tax. We are disappointed that Paul Burns and VPIRG are apparently not willing or able to engage on that level.