Back in December of 2014 Rep. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), chair of the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee, gave an interview about Carbon Tax legislation he planned to take up. Klein admitted he did not expect a bill to pass in 2015 or even 2016, stating, “It’s at least a three-year process,” and that “you don’t [pass a massive tax increase] in an election year.”
Well, after we get past this election year of 2016, we’ll be coming up on three years into the process of passing a Carbon Tax that would add 88¢ to every gallon of gasoline, $1.02 to every gallon of diesel and home heating oil, with similar increases for natural gas, propane, kerosene, butane and aviation fuel. Should Vermonters be worried? Absolutely.
Klein’s committee has been taking testimony on the Carbon Tax with the objective of building a case and garnering support for its passage for the past two years. The groundwork has been laid.
VPIRG, arguably the most powerful lobbying organization in the State House with an overall annual budget of roughly $2.5 million, has made passage of a Carbon Tax a top priority. They’ve spent the past two summers sending people door to door to advocate for a Vermont Carbon Tax in anticipation of the 2017 push, and they hired a full time employee/lobbyist to advocate solely for the Carbon Tax and to organize a coalition of organizations to make the Carbon Tax a reality.
That twenty-member coalition of special interest groups now calls itself Energy Independent Vermont (EIV), and contains such organizations as the Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, the Gund Institute of UVM, and the Vermont Natural Resources council. The financial and lobbying power of this coalition is massive in its parts, but Energy Independent Vermont also has its own full time executive director in Thomas Hughes. It’s worth noting that Hughes is the former executive director of the Vermont Democrat Party.
EIV commissioned a study of how the Carbon Tax would be good for Vermont. This study was paid for in part by David Blittersdorf of All Earth Renewables. Again worth noting, if the Carbon Tax were put into effect as proposed, ten percent of the money raised would be earmarked to subsidize renewable energy businesses like Blittersdorf’s, and he has a pretty good track record of getting what he wants out of the Vermont legislature. He’s a major donor to the majority party.
Some of Blittersdorf’s donations this cycle include $10,000 to the Vermont State Democratic Committee in February 2015, and two $5000 donations to the same in July of this year. He also made a maximum $4000 contribution to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter.
Bernie Sanders promises to also be a major factor in advancing a Vermont Carbon Tax. Sanders was instrumental in getting support for a carbon tax placed in the National Democratic Party platform. It is a priority issue for him, and he is using his new-found political muscle to help elect Vermont candidates who will further his agenda here at home. Two of those whom Sanders has endorsed are Chris Pearson, a Progressive house member trying to move up to the senate, and David Zuckerman, a Progressive senator running for Lieutenant Governor.
Zuckerman is an outspoken advocate for the Carbon Tax. In October 2015, he publicly endorsed the Carbon Tax from the stage at a VPIRG/350 Vermont rally put on in support of the legislation. If wins in November, Zuckerman will function as president of the senate, and would be influential in naming committee chairs. Pearson, for whom Sanders helped raise $80,000 in two days, is the lead sponsor of H. 395 – An Act Relating to Establishing a Carbon Pollution Tax, and founder of the 40 member Climate Caucus, which supports passage of a Carbon Tax.
Climate Caucus member Mary Hooper (D-Montpelier) summed up the mindset of these legislators in an August 2016 interview with VPR: “’The issue of climate change is the most profound issue of our time, and I personally believe that we have a moral imperative to act,’ Hooper says. Hooper says the concept of a carbon-pollution tax has wide support among the 40-member Climate Caucus in Montpelier, which is made up of Democrats and Progressives…. ‘I think that we have to, we have to step up to it, and show leadership in this area.’” They will be actively pushing for a Carbon Tax in January.
So, depending upon how the election goes in November, we could be looking at a sympathetic governor, and outright advocate in the lieutenant governor, and a forty member legislative Caucus pushing for a Carbon Tax, all driven forward by a large, powerful, well-funded coalition of special interest groups committed to making the Carbon Tax happen. That sounds like a plan to me.
– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org). He lives in Stowe.