Wanted: a carbon pollution tax

Vermont can lead the way nationally with a bill that would provide one essential effective measure in the fight against global climate change

BRATTLEBORO — Over two decades ago, international scientific consensus established that emission of greenhouse gases, due to human economic activities, had increased the average global temperature and that, without immediate action, that temperature would continue to rise.

The consensus asserted that inaction would result in severe climate disruptions to which living systems would not be able to adapt.

Since then, greenhouse-gas emissions have continually increased, exceeding the safe level of 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide and, this year, exceeding 400 ppm.

Ongoing research in climate science has yielded predictions that are more often too cautious and conservative than they are accurate in terms of the expected effects.

In the meantime, little has been done to address the growing crisis. Efforts to achieve an international treaty agreement to curb emissions have largely been futile and often obstructed by our own federal government.

As emissions continue to rise, so do the costs and the urgency of addressing the gathering economic and environmental crisis.

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Since most greenhouse gas emissions are a consequence of burning fossil fuels to produce energy, one essential effective measure is to put a price on carbon emissions via a carbon pollution tax.

A Vermont bill to tax the distributors of fossil fuels - H.412 - would accomplish just this.

The proceeds of H.412 would be rebated to the taxpaying public, with a progressive skew to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from the shock of rising prices.

Likewise, H.412 would provide incentives to reduce consumption/usage and encourage efforts by households and businesses to achieve reductions. The carbon pollution tax would gradually be introduced with year-over-year increments to prevent sudden economic disruption.

As demand for fossil-fuel-based energy sources decreases, investment will shift to alternative energy infrastructure. This shift is critical to combat the potentially catastrophic effects of runaway greenhouse gas emissions on the climate and on the environment as a whole.

Further, as the entire population engages with the program and experiences the benefit of rebates, public attention and support for the energy transitions will increase. Once this system is in place, any effort to repeal the tax would largely be felt as a tax increase.

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One of the goals of the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance (VYDA) is to nurture public policy, particularly in the arena of nuclear power, that is respectful of natural systems and the health of the environment in which we all live.

Thus, VYDA wholeheartedly supports and urges the passage of a carbon pollution tax, and specifically this legislation under consideration. Vermont comprises just 0.5 percent of the U.S. population and still less of a share of the nation's gross domestic product. But the U.S. is the second-largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, both per capita and in total.

Given the current gridlock in Washington, D.C., any movement to change the behavior of businesses and consumers will have to begin at the level of state government.

Vermont, with little real cost to itself, can lead the way on this urgent issue, inspiring other states with environmentally informed electorates (Oregon, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and especially drought-stricken California) to follow suit.

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