Carbon Taxes and Real Life

There is a movement afoot in Vermont to tax carbon-intensive fuels, and the Executive Director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association is not a fan.

In an interview this morning with Oil & Energy, Matt Cota said legislators in the Green Mountain State have filed a bill to impose a carbon tax that could raise the per-gallon cost of heating oil by $1.02 and gasoline by 89 cents.

Vermonters are deeply divided on the issue. Environmentalists are urging Vermont to lead the way, while conservatives are ridiculing the idea.

Cota said he is speaking out against the carbon tax plan every chance he gets. “There are some people who truly believe that these fuels are a sin that needs to be taxed and that they need to be taxed for us to be forced for economic reasons to use less,” he said. “And they are right that if you keep raising the price people will be forced to use less, but that will have bad effects on the economy. Half the counties in Vermont border other states. We even share school districts with New Hampshire. Crossing the border is not odd at all here, and if every gas station here is $1 more per gallon they will be dry, and there will be no road tax to fix the roads. Our drivers will wear out the bridges crossing into New Hampshire, but there will be no money to pay for repairs because all the revenue will go to Concord,” which is the capital of New Hampshire.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he supports the carbon tax but only as a regional measure that would not isolate Vermont economically. “Some lawmakers are supportive and believe we need to put a price on the use of diesel and heating oil and gasoline,” Cota said. “I am going to every hen house, outhouse and Rotary Club meeting and talking to anyone within earshot. I tell them that we are in a cold, rural state with an agricultural economy and a tourism economy. We need the 10 million gallons of diesel we use every year for farms. Dairy farms are a huge part of our economy. We don’t just put those cows out there to look pretty for the tourists. We have 8,000 miles of dirt roads, and those take road graders and buses and diesel fuels. Prius hasn’t made a plow truck yet. We bus kids all over, and if we can’t get the diesel plows out there to get the snow off the roads, there are negative effects.

“If we raise the cost of these fuels, it will cost everyone money. We get bombarded with ads of how people should move their businesses to New York State, and now we’re going to increase our energy costs by 45 percent? It seems nonsensical, but there is this mindset that we have to do anything in our power to reduce the use of fossil fuels.”

While there is healthy skepticism about the carbon tax, Cota will not ease up. “Never underestimate the political will of people who want to stop the consumption of heating oil, diesel and gasoline. There is a fervent strain in Vermont that is determined to eliminate the fuels we sell, never mind that doing so would eliminate companies and their jobs and that the opportunities for manufacturing and other businesses rely on trucks and transport.

“We can’t all just walk to work talking on our cell phones and drinking cappuccino. We need to get in our trucks and drive to work, and our economy doesn’t work on electricity alone.” Even environmentalists acknowledge that eliminating fossil fuel usage in Vermont would have little effect on climate change. “But they say we need to be first and lead the way,” said Cota, “We need to be the leader, and then we can influence Alabama and Mississippi. This is the height of narcissism. People in other states aren’t going to look at Vermont and say, ‘We have to be like them.’ They will look at us and say, ‘That was a horrible mistake.’”

 

Here are links to recent articles on the Vermont carbon tax plan…

• Vermont Public Radio discusses the carbon tax with Cota and Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) Executive Director Paul Burns.

• Vermont Digger looks at the tussle between VPIRG and the state Republican Party.

• Candidates for governor disavow the carbon tax in a Burlington Free Press article.

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