The heart of a good democracy includes engagement and the honest discussion and debate of issues affecting the government and its people.
It’s a forward-thinking bill that would strengthen our economy and create jobs.” ~ Mary Sullivan
In this past election, it was extremely disappointing to see the carbon pollution tax, a bill that I had introduced in the previous session along with Rep. David Deen and many co-sponsors to help our state transition from a fossil fuel economy to a green, clean energy future, so misrepresented and maligned to the point that many voters were demanding that their legislators promise to forever oppose such legislation. It happened to be a very good and forward-thinking bill that would – according to a thorough study – strengthen our economy and create jobs.
Details of this analysis, called the REMI study, can be found on the Energy Independent Vermont website. A few facts were always left out of the propaganda: that 90 percent of the money collected through such a tax would have been returned to taxpayers by reducing other taxes and that it would be phased in over 10 years.
Of course the Koch Brothers are very opposed to any legislation that prices carbon and have certainly put their money behind defeating all such proposals. But let’s remember that the Koch Brothers and others who have made their billions in the oil industry benefit financially from keeping a fossil fuel economy going; the rest of us do not.
There is now reliable new data showing the health benefits of reducing our use of fossil fuels in the Northeast. As a matter of fact, due to the regional carbon trading program, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), people are now living longer and healthier lives. A new, independent study by Abt Associates, based in Cambridge, Mass., quantifies the impact. The report shows that since 2009, RGGI has significantly reduced air pollution from fossil fuel power plants, improving the health of people living in the Northeast. Residents are now experiencing significantly fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and respiratory illnesses. Moreover, residents of neighboring states not part of RGGI have also seen health benefits from the program. Key findings from the report include: 300 to 830 lives saved; more than 8,200 asthma attacks avoided; 39,000 lost work days averted; and $5.7 billion in health savings and other benefits.
Whether we price carbon through a Carbon Pollution Tax (explained) or through a cap-and-trade system like RGGI, people respond by using less carbon-based fuel and by seeking alternatives. It means our kids have fewer asthma attacks. It means older people have fewer respiratory illnesses. It means we all live healthier lives. While studies such as this one can show a dollars-and-cents benefit to these health improvements we all know breathing well and feeling healthy are priceless.
Fossil fuel reduction is a win-win all around.
Vermont does not produce any fossil fuel, and 80 cents out of every dollar spent on fossil fuel is sucked out of the local economy. If those dollars were to stay in Vermont by increasing support to alternatives to fossil fuel-based transportation and by promoting weatherization so that homes are more healthful, warmer and use less fuel, our economy would benefit by keeping dollars local and creating new jobs in a growing field.
As the fossil fuel age comes to an end and climate change continues to threaten so much of what we value (including our health), we as legislators must be planning for the best transition possible. I believe if our constituents had all the facts in front of them many would be demanding that we pass some form of carbon pricing here in Vermont along with other measures to accomplish a smooth transition. Vermont has been a leader in the past by thinking big and attacking problems before they attack us. Let’s get some of that fighting spirit back.
Mary Sullivan, of Burlington, is a Democratic state representative for the Chittenden District 6-4.