Vermont carbon tax bills unlikely to reach House floor

Published: Feb. 27, 2019 at 4:19 PM EST
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New carbon tax proposals have been introduced in the Vermont Legislature. The bills are not expected to advance this year, but they keep a hotly debated topic front and center.

"Given the timing, given the political winds, it is a messaging bill," said Matt Cota with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, who adamantly opposes any form of a carbon tax. "Over the last five years, we have seen 11 different proposals to add a cost to fuels that are carbon-based."

Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, favors a carbon tax and has sponsored a new one, but she's not expecting it to move forward, either. "I think the point is to keep all options on the table when it comes to climate action," she said.

Colburn's bill would add a $5 tax to each ton of carbon. Each year it would grow by five dollars more until it hits $50 a ton.

Cota says it spikes the price for heating fuel and gasoline on Vermonters. "It's about five cents a gallon the first year and it's about 50 cents a gallon on the tenth year. With gasoline, it's a little bit less -- 4.5 cents the first year, going up to 45 cents on year ten," he said.

For Colburn, raising the price is the point -- to change behaviors and spur the use of alternative fuels. "Why it makes sense is we've seen it make sense in jurisdictions that have tried it, like British Columbia, without damaging the economy. We've seen emissions get lower. We've actually even sometimes seen boosts to the economy," she said.

Cota says the real goal is to eliminate all carbon-based fuels, but many of the alternatives aren't yet up to snuff. "One way to do that is to make the cost so expensive that people won't be able to afford it and they'll have to find other alternatives," he said.

Colburn says she hopes to convince skeptics over time that a carbon tax is part of the solution to fighting climate change, along with weatherizing homes and boosting use of electric vehicles. "This is not the answer, this is one piece of the puzzle," she said.

Without the support of legislative leaders or Gov. Phil Scott, a carbon tax won't be moving forward any time soon, but the debate will continue and likely heat up in the future.