Commentary: Stamping Out Carbon Dioxide Emissions (February, 2019)

By John McClaughry

Last September the Legislature underwrote a $120,000 contract to a Washington DC firm named  Resources for the Future, that specializes in analyzing the economic impact of various policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by consumption of fossil fuels. The 114-page “Decarbonization Study” has now been delivered.

Before summarizing its findings, let’s recall why certain organizations are so intent on driving Vermonters away from using gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, heating oil, and propane.

They believe that Planet Earth is approaching a climate catastrophe caused by the humans burning these energy-rich fuels. By far the most dominant greenhouse gas is water vapor, but that can’t be controlled by driving up the price of water. So the climate alarmists – for want of a better description – are determined to defeat the menace of climate change by making humans stop burning fossil fuels.

A flat out prohibition of these sources of energy has no prospect of happening any time soon, especially when most (though not all) climate alarmists are also dead set against nuclear electricity as the carbon-free solution that will maintain our energy-intensive 21st century civilization. They have defined their target as “GHG emissions”. Their means of reducing those emissions is to have the government drive the price of carbon-based fuels steadily higher, until most people can’t afford them anymore and will switch to something else (or move away).

Their ideal for Vermont, with one fifth of one percent of the U.S. population, is to become the perfect little climate-conscious state. Thanks to more building insulation, clustered dwellings, public transit, bicycles, heat pumps, biomass heat, and efficiency improvements, existing hydro plants, and much more wind and solar PV electricity, Vermont’s population will consume far less energy, and eventually zero fossil fuel energy.

The metric for climate righteousness has become the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuel combustion. In 1990 Vermonters released eight million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e). At a 2005 conference of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, intensely midwifed by climate activists, Gov. Jim Douglas caught a serious case of emissions reduction fever.

The result was his Executive Order 07-05 of 2005, declaring Vermont’s goals to be to reduce GHG emissions to 25% below the 1990 emissions level by 2012, 50% below by 2028, and 75% below (“if practicable”) by 2050. These goals were enshrined in Act 168 of 2006. The leading advocacy group, the Center for Climate Strategies, lauded Vermont for having “the nation’s most aggressive GHG reduction goals.”

By 2015, Vermont was not emitting less than the 1990 level, but 10 Mt, 16% above and climbing. This was embarrassing.

What followed were gubernatorial amendments to Act 168, none of which were ever voted on by elected legislators. Gov. Peter Shumlin, an ardent climate warrior, declared that, regardless of state law, the new goals would be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by 2050.

In June 2017 Gov. Phil Scott announced Vermont was joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, whose governor-members promise to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Clearly all the renewable energy subsidies weren’t getting the job done, although they certainly produced affluence for the renewable industrial complex.

After the heavily Democratic legislature declined to consider the ESSEX carbon tax plan, the increasingly frustrated climate change warriors asked and got the $120,000 RFF Decarbonization Study.

Representative conclusions from the Study include a finding that “emissions in Vermont have been increasing since 2011, and the state is currently well above a pathway that would meet any of its GHG emissions targets. … Vermont is unlikely to meet its emissions targets with a carbon-pricing-only strategy unless the carbon price is substantially higher than the prices modeled in this study ($19 to $77 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent in 2025).…”

“A carbon pricing policy could generate $74.7–$433.8 million in annual revenue in 2025, depending on the carbon price amount and number of sectors covered… Carbon revenue is an appealing feature of carbon pricing and can allow the state to address the negative consequences of carbon pricing, especially for low-income and rural households.”

Overall, the Study found, there is a combination of carbon pricing [which it carefully avoids characterizing as a tax] and non-price policies that can lead to positive outcomes, if environmental benefits from reducing carbon combustion are added in.

The Study candidly observes that “the success of Vermont’s decarbonization strategy will depend on the extent to which it drives action in other states or other countries…if Vermont’s policy leadership were to inspire increased leadership and policy innovation in other states or nations—it would indeed amount to a significant impact.”

There is much, much more in this capably produced Study. The ultimate question legislators need to wrestle with now is, how much expense, disruption and grief are Vermonters willing to endure to produce no detectable effect on global climate, but only this symbolic triumph?

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

joseph blanchard February 1, 2019 at 10:28 pm

lets not pretend that carbon initiative and taxing is anything less than genocide on the poor and this new inspection tyranny will take 27.4% of cars off the road for no good reason making poor people suffer. it has hit me hard .. ive got 1000’s in fines for no inspected car and and frozen pipe because i cant afford to drive to get a $10 part for my furnace. in not a criminal but ive had my right to drive taken because im poor and nothing less

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gdp February 1, 2019 at 11:37 pm

As in the case of the Ayrians positing the riddance of the Jews to ‘purify’ German society, this posit of the Communist/socialists (See, von Mises, Planned Chaos) to more than control private means to government solution of ending ‘evils’ within our environment through the elimination of more than property but mobility, continues the ‘petrie’ approach leading down the cascade of the Fabian freeway. Positing delusional crises (a la Sorokin) based on more than questionable ‘science’, and there even if true, incapable of cure because beyond our control, locally, statewide, nationally, internationally, derives from a hatred of free enterprise and property, which made Vermont great, and the Union that followed it. If they want to be effective, start with India and China! Continuing to advocate this ‘robbery’ is at the heart of America’s social malaise, it being no accident that America’s ‘Rosa Luxemberg’ (AOC) is putsching a ‘green’ agenda. Restore Vermont’s lead, get rid of the ‘green agenda’.

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Deanne February 1, 2019 at 11:44 pm

When people hear something over and over again, they come to so totally accept it as fact that they can no longer fathom the possibility that it isn’t so. Although I am convinced we are poisoning our planet and ourselves and we should really be more responsible stewards of our home, I am not convinced that “climate change” (conveniently renamed from “global warming” so no matter what happens, blame can be assigned to humans) is due to our activities. Common sense would dictate that people should be more frugal, less wasteful, more careful, and less flippant, but taxing (punishing) people for driving to work and hearing their homes is just plain ludicrous.

I do have to say, though, that I wish Vermont would go full steam one way or the other so the consequences would be clearly visible. This playing around is wasting untold amounts of time and money.

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