Opinion: Vermont State Representative Mary Sullivan
With the astounding changes in climate occurring all around us (extreme storms, floods, droughts, etc.), I feel we must all be doing everything we can to reverse these changes so that our children and grandchildren (and ourselves considering how fast these changes are taking place) can continue to live on a planet that is able to provide for us. One thing we can all work on is to reduce our emissions of carbon pollution — our carbon footprint — because adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is what is driving climate change.
When I returned to the Vermont House this past January after a 14 year hiatus, climate was a big issue on my mind. I’ve always felt a moral obligation to do my part to protect the planet. After lots of discussions with my constituents, businesses, concerned citizens and other legislators, I introduced H.412, a carbon pollution tax bill, along with Rep. David Deen from Westminster and 25 other cosponsors. The bill would impose an excise tax on the carbon pollution created by fossil fuels, phased in over 10 years, and would return 90 percent of the dollars raised through the tax to the taxpayer and to businesses in the form of reductions in other taxes.
Ten percent of the revenue would be used to fund weatherization, transportation efficiency and other programs that would help Vermonters reduce their energy bills. Vermont spends nearly $2 billion annually to heat our buildings and get people and goods where they need to go. Eight out of 10 of those dollars go out of state, much as profit to big oil companies. By helping people reduce their spending on fossil fuels, these Vermont dollars stay here and help to further stimulate the local economy. When money is spent on weatherization rather than on fossil fuels to keep our homes warm local contractors get a boost, which helps grow Vermont businesses.
A well-crafted carbon pollution tax would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, grow jobs and grow the state’s economy. It would also ensure that low-income Vermonters benefit, helping them lower their fossil fuel use and delivering an additional rebate to low-income households.
A carbon pollution tax is not a new or untested idea. British Columbia has had such a tax since 2008 when its conservative, forward-thinking premiere instituted it. Since then British Columbia has cut other taxes to the tune of a billion dollars a year, and reduced its fossil fuel use by 16 percent while emissions in the rest of Canada have grown. It’s been called “an environmental and economic success story.” In fact, the BC economy is doing quite well — better than the rest of Canada — since the carbon pollution tax was implemented. Sweden, a traditionally innovative nation, introduced a carbon pollution tax in 1991, and now its emissions are 20 percent lower than what they otherwise would have been, which are far lower per capita than emissions in the U.S. There are many other countries and regions that have imposed such a tax to their economic and environmental benefit.
Professor Janet E. Milne explains Carbon Pollution Tax 101
We are in a time of transition whether we like it or not. The fossil fuel age is coming to an end. While it has provided us with a quality of life unimaginable in terms of material possessions it has also polluted our air and water and increased respiratory illnesses. It has also helped to catalyze extreme weather events, like Irene, which came with a nearly $1 billion price tag here in Vermont alone, and pain and suffering for hundreds of Vermonters. This cannot go on.
When we look back in history we can see that it has not been the “same ole, same ole” thinkers who got us to good places, but rather the people who could think outside the box and envision a changing future. They then would start making the needed changes in order to be well situated when inevitable transitions came to be. Rather than ignoring science and hoping for the best despite the odds, let’s get moving, start reducing our reliance on dirty fossil fuel and help ensure the short- and long-term economic health of people’s pocketbooks and the planet. Vermont should join other provinces and nations which are benefiting from putting a price on carbon pollution, and investing in their people and their future.
Rep. Mary Sullivan, D-Burlington, is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.