Scott rejects study of carbon tax by climate commission

Published: Jan. 31, 2018 at 3:30 PM EST
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Gov. Phil Scott is rejecting a key recommendation from his own Climate Action Commission. It centers around a so-called carbon tax. Scott has never supported it, and in a letter to the commission last week, he wrote that even studying the idea should be dropped.

Governor Phil Scott has made his position on a carbon tax clear -- both on the campaign trail and after his election. "I'd veto it," Scott said during a 2016 WCAX debate. He says Vermonters can't afford a tax on fossil fuels.

"The governor's made very clear that he doesn't think that a carbon tax is appropriate for Vermont," said Peter Walke, who co-chair's the governor's climate commission. Walke says they recommended studying the issue in their initial report last month. "The fact that he's been able to provide that feedback and create a dialogue with us is exactly the independence that Vermonters want."

The commission and the governor agree on four other recommendations, including supporting advanced wood heat, boosting weatherization efforts, growing the climate economy, and electrifying the transportation system. But the fifth -- studying the impacts of a carbon tax -- drew strong pushback from the governor. Almost everyone on the commission supported it, but with the governor's opposition, Walke says he doesn't think it makes much sense to pursue it. "The governor's not supportive of it. Going back to that well probably isn't the best path forward to move Vermont toward its goals," he said.

But Scott's letter has irked environmental groups who think the issue should be studied. "The idea of rejecting new information, which is really the basis of good policy making, has never been a mark of great leadership," said Ben Walsh with VPIRG.

But advocates for fuel dealers support the governor's position. "To spend any of the public's money, let alone $100,000, which it's estimated to cost, on a bad idea, is a bad idea," said Matt Cota with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

Gov. Scott may be voicing his strong opposition to a carbon tax, but some lawmakers are undeterred. Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, and Sen. Chris Pearson, P-Chittenden County, announced legislation Wednesday for a Vermont-based carbon tax.

Copeland Hanzas says her bill will cut electric costs and protect low and middle-income Vermonters while cutting down on pollution. "It's going to strengthen Vermont's economy and it will also -- most critically -- reduce pollution," she said.

Pearson says lawmakers and all Vermonters should learn more about the proposals. "I encourage my colleagues and all Vermonters to learn about the Essex Plan and join our effort to reduce electricity costs, prioritize the most vulnerable, and actually do something about carbon pollution," He said.

That effort isn't expected to make it to the governor's desk this year. Neither the House nor the Senate are expected to pass it.