This commentary is by Rep. Mary Sullivan, a Democrat who represents Chittenden district 6-5 in the Vermont House of Representatives. Mary is a Democrat.
Before more misinformation about the carbon pollution tax is circulated I thought that as one of the lead sponsors of H.412, which happens to have 26 co-sponsors, I would try to set some of the record straight.
“It’s an insane idea,” being done “for no apparent reason,” says gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman while his state party chair calls it “disgusting.” This type of hyperbole is totally unproductive as Vermonters are trying to figure out the best way for us as a state to do our part to address climate change and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
The reality they don’t want you to know: taxing carbon pollution is a proven policy solution already in place in regions and countries around the globe. The leader of the International Monetary Fund recently called for pricing carbon pollution everywhere, and economists and others from across the political spectrum have argued for years that this is a policy we need in place to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Numerous businesses – including here in Vermont – already calculate an internal carbon price, knowing this policy is on its way.
These tax reductions are clearly spelled out in the bill, and as the lead sponsor, I will only support a bill where the money is going back to Vermonters.”
British Columbia has had a similar policy since 2008, and they have cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent compared to the rest of Canada over the same time period. Meanwhile, their economy is doing just as well as the rest of the country.
Fossil fuels have done a lot of damage in Vermont, and phasing in a small excise tax on fossil fuel distributors (starting at $10/ton of carbon pollution or 9 cents a gallon of gas), alongside tax cuts for Vermonters and Vermont employers, is one way to make polluters start paying for this damage. Along with climate change, fossil fuels are responsible for a reduction in air quality, an increase in asthma rates along with other respiratory illnesses, increases in cancer, and many other issues like a reduction in our forest health. A healthy environment for our families is something we prioritize as Vermonters.
If legislation such as H.412 (or the other carbon pollution tax bill H.395, introduced by Rep. Chris Pearson) is passed into law, it will not only improve Vermont’s environment but it will strengthen the economy. A detailed study by a well-respected group called REMI (Regional Economic Modeling Inc.) has shown this, as has a separate study done by the state on a very similar policy. Who thinks that having $2 billion sucked out of our state each year to pay for fossil fuels is a good economic development tool? If these Republicans actually think so, they need to go back to Econ 101. For every one of these dollars that stays in state, two to four dollars are circulated locally, providing for a more robust economy.
In H.412, all of the revenue raised from the price on carbon pollution will go back to Vermonters. A small portion of the money (10 percent) is used to help people transition off fossil fuels through programs like low-income weatherization, and 90 percent will go back to families and businesses in direct tax cuts and rebates. These tax reductions are clearly spelled out in the bill, and as the lead sponsor, I will only support a bill where the money is going back to Vermonters.
Another commitment I have is ensuring the policy is crafted in a way that protects and ultimately benefits low-income Vermonters. Fossil fuel costs are high and unpredictable, and that burden on working families can be alleviated when we help people transition to cheaper and more stable heating and transportation solutions.
Whether we like it or not the fossil fuel age is coming to an end. Wouldn’t it be better to think big and figure out how to reduce our carbon use and plan for this inevitable future rather than to hold on to oil, gas, and coal to the bitter end? This is what good leaders do. They don’t scare people with false information and fear-mongering.
I am proud to be one of the lead sponsors of H.412. I am proud to be working with the low-income advocates, environmental groups, academics, businesses and other organizations who are promoting this serious piece of legislation. And I encourage voters to read the bill, read the background information on carbon pollution taxes and don’t succumb to the scare tactics that the Republicans are resorting to.