by John Goodrich
For nearly 38 years I had the privilege to work for one of the most important companies in the Northeast Kingdom. St. Johnsbury-based Weidmann puts bread on the table for 300 families. It was, and is, a mainstay of our local economy. As a measure of that importance to the local economy over the past 25 years, Weidmann paid directly in salaries and wages more than a ¼ billion dollars ($250,000,000) to its local employees.
Thus I am alarmed at the urgent call by activists and political candidates for the imposition of a new “carbon tax” on gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, heating oil, propane and other fuels. According to the proposed plan, this tax would be passed by the legislature in 2017 (right after this coming November election), implemented in 2018, and expanded each year thereafter until 2028 when it would be collecting $500 million (half a billion!) a year – more than the current sales tax, and almost as much as the current income tax.
In 2012 Weidmann, an international company with several locations around the world, decided to expand at our St. Johnsbury plant. We just barely won out over competing non-Vermont sites. Our local plant is a major user of compressed natural gas for process heat to produce transformer board, a critical component needed in electrical transformers large and small. If a carbon tax had been levied on our fuel supply at the time, I am pretty sure the expanded plant you see on Route 5 would today be located in some other state or country, and the the entire Weidmann operation in Vermont would be tenuous at best.
As we investigated fuel sources for our needed process heat, we critically examined and compared our costs if we were to use oil, gas, wood chips, cow-generated methane gas, solar panels and wind generation. Only oil and gas were competitive and consistent enough to sustain our operation. At one point, during an oil price spike, we determined that an electric boiler would have been cost effective. However, we were discouraged by our utility to use an electric boiler because it would have required substantial investment in the transmission deliver system as the existing lines and transformers could not support such an intensive use of electricity. Cow methane had some possibilities but the dependence on just a few farmers capable of producing that gas is too risky for our plant’s ever present and on-going large requirements. Wood chips, seemingly beneficial to our forest owners, loggers and compatible with our natural renewable resources was completely lacking in political support (because I learned all political chips were being placed on wind and solar).
When considering the imposition of a carbon tax on gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, heating oil and propane, I see a detrimental effect on the competitiveness of our business in the rural NEK, and I’m sure throughout the state. I also see such a tax doing great harm to the hard-working rural Vermonters who get up and drive each day to and from work, sometimes great distances, in all kinds of weather down to 40-below. Ultimately, the carbon tax is an attack on many of our businesses and individuals
Keeping Vermont’s economy afloat is a huge task. Vermont businesses like Weidmann, and I’m sure many others are in the same boat, have enough hard work staying above water without facing a massive new carbon tax. It is a bad idea.
- John Goodrich was formerly the VP of Operations for the Americas at Weidmann and chairman of the board of Associated Industries of Vermont. He is currently a member of the EAI board of directors.