Vt. lawmakers plan to resurrect carbon tax proposal

Published: Dec. 6, 2017 at 3:24 PM EST
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Should Vermonters pay more at the pump in exchange for cheaper electric rates and less pollution? Some lawmakers in Montpelier think so, and are drafting legislation to make it happen.

Lawmakers have a new plan, but it might sound familiar. That's because, like previous proposals, it would tax fossil fuels and use the money to lower electric rates.

"Under the Essex Plan we're raising the price of dirty, fossil fuels and we'd simultaneously be lowering the price of clean, renewable electricity,"said Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford.

Lawmakers and advocates touted the newest carbon tax effort in Montpelier. In addition to cutting carbon emissions, Copeland-Hanzas says electric rates would drop by 27-percent. Rural and low-income Vermonters would see even greater savings through rebates. "This plan would return 100-percent of those revenues back to Vermonters and Vermont businesses in the form of rebates for your clean electricity," Copeland-Hanzas said.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat, isn't endorsing the idea yet but wants lawmakers to examine it. "If we can find a way to do it where it is economically neutral for Vermonters, or maybe even positive for Vermonters, then I think we have to look at that," he said.

"There's a fundamental problem with the Essex Plan -- the math doesn't work," said Matt Cota with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. He says with the carbon tax, people will pay more for gasoline and not see an equal savings on their electric bills. He says this especially hurts people who have longer commutes. "It is truly a plan to decimate, economically, everywhere outside of Chittenden County. It is a Chittenden County plan that would harm rural Vermont."

People at the pump have mixed feelings, too. "I don't mind paying a little premium for things that are important," said Larry Vigneault of Richmond.

"It makes perfect sense to me. I mean, you're reducing the carbon output from vehicles and heating fuel and things like that and moving to a cleaner energy source," said Jacob King of Middlebury.

"What about low-income families who don't have that extra tax money? I mean, that doesn't seem fair to them," said Diane Mastaglio from Norway.

Lawmakers say they know the idea will be a tough sell. Past efforts haven't gained much traction. Scott administration officials Wednesday said the governor remains firmly opposed to the idea, saying there is no guarantee it would help lower carbon emissions.