Commentary: Carbon Tax Would Kill Jobs (September, 2016)

john-goodrich

John Goodrich

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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan September 26, 2016 at 11:14 am

The proposed carbon tax seem like it is one of the most stupid taxes to rip off Vermonters. We are already getting ripped off by big oil and our property taxes. When will the hard working people of Vermont get a break? I’m not voting for any candidate supporting this outrageous tax.

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Stacey September 29, 2016 at 4:31 pm

I get that we need to balance preserving our environment and still letting Vermonters be able to make a living. But at what point do we look at the immediate pain of transitioning to other sources of fuel as being more tolerable than irreversible damage done to the environment. Like climate change won’t lead to a huge job loss? Petroleum products being referred to as “sustainable” is wrong. There is a finite amount of this resource left. How long do we keep ruling in favor of practices like this that put immediate profits over long term damage done to the environment? I am a Vermonter, born and raised. I don’t make much money but I am no longer willing to support a lifestyle that values money over clean air, water and untainted soil. I am willing to pay more for a product that is locally grown or made. I am willing to pay more for that product if they are using truly sustainable manufacturing processes that mean less environmental impact. I am willing to pay more for my daughters’ futures.

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Francis Beaulieu October 1, 2016 at 11:21 am

Far too often these days I as ponder the happenings of our government, both in the State of Vermont and Federal. I think, am I Rip Van Winkle just awaking up after 20 years seeing what I am seeing happening now? What is gong on is like a bad dream. Really, what the hell is going on? This carbon tax is crazy! Just another way for government to take more money from us and spend it wastefully.
Not by me. Each candidate I am able to address I will ask what their position is on this proposal. Any that are in favor will not get my vote.
Say, I have a proposal! How about we put Trust back in government?

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Mark Shepard October 4, 2016 at 1:25 am

John,

Thanks for sharing your perspective. It is so sad to see living in Vermont being mad harder every time the legislature is in session. I still think the key to stopping all of their nonsense is to limit their time to just enough to take care of the real issues. Two months the first year and two weeks the second, if and only if, revenues require a budget adjustment. Until session length is addressed, the nonsense will continue.

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Jim Bulmer October 4, 2016 at 1:47 pm

The truly sad part of this carbon tax debate is that the folks in Montpelier don’t have a clue about running a business, living within their means, dealing with everyday expenses. They sit in their ivory tower dreaming up fantasies of what would be nirvana rather than facing up to reality and coming up with practical, workable solutions to real problems. The carbon tax is ridiculous. Vermont contributes ZERO to global warming. If enacted, you can rest assured down the road a good chunk will end up in the general fund one way or another. We need to elect Republicans to get Vermont back on the right tract. Broken record? You bet, but it’s the iony way out of this morass!!!

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Mary Marzec-agerrior November 3, 2016 at 1:03 am

John, thank you for explaining the impact of the carbon tax on companies, and importantly on jobs in this state. While climate change is causing damage, it is very difficult to quantify the costs associated with it and any possible solutions. I appreciate your weighing in on the cost to individuals and the economy.

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