OPINION: Carbon Pollution Solution

by Tom Hughes of Energy Independent Vermont

This year Governor Phil Scott took another step towards real climate action. He signed an executive order creating a Vermont Climate Action Commission and reaffirmed the climate and clean energy goals in the 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan.

In this era of federal backsliding, Scott has sided with the facts. Further, he stacked the commission with leaders experienced in building consensus to get tough things done. There doesn’t appear to be a climate science denier among them.

He tasked the commission with developing a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that spurs economic activity, engages all Vermonters and provides solutions to reduce carbon impact and save money. These are thoughtful parameters, though there should be one more: the commission’s recommended solutions must be commensurate to the challenge.

Despite decades of lofty rhetoric and good intentions, Vermont’s total carbon emissions are up. We are not on pace to meet any of the three sets of greenhouse gas reduction goals that Scott voted for as senator, the Paris Climate Accord goals he committed to by joining the U.S. Climate Alliance last month, or the Comprehensive Energy Plan goals he reaffirmed in his executive order last week.

In order to achieve any of our climate goals the commission must recommend more comprehensive strategies.  Without bolder recommendations — and swift action by the governor and general assembly — the naysayers who mock gubernatorial commissions as the place that good ideas go to die will be proven right.

If the commissioners and the governor are serious about their assignment, there is an effective climate strategy that conforms to all of the governor’s conditions and is working elsewhere: carbon pollution pricing.

As President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wrote in the New York Times, a price on carbon pollution would “unleash a wave of innovation to develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs.” 

There is a reason that economists from across the political spectrum — distinguished number crunchers like Joseph Stiglitz, Lawrence Summers, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Reich, Gregory Mankiw, Martin Feldstein — all support carbon pollution pricing: It’s smart economics.

By returning the carbon pollution revenue to Vermonters in the form of tax cuts or dividends, every Vermonter would be engaged.  We would have both the incentive and the means to transition to the cleaner, more advanced technologies of the 21st century — growing jobs and putting many more Vermonters to work.

Finally, when it comes to saving money, the sooner we transition off of fossil fuels the better.  Even at today’s low gasoline prices, it costs about one-third less to drive an electric vehicle than one powered by an internal combustion engine. An electric heat pump delivers BTUs to a home or business more cost-effectively than an oil burning furnace. Carbon pollution pricing is a market-driven solution that encourages adoption of these and other low-carbon, low-cost technologies that save Vermonters money.

The transition to the clean energy future is a win-win for the economy and our climate.

If admitting there is a problem is the first step to fixing it, then Scott took that step last week.  The Climate Action Commission has a critical assignment — and an opportunity. Identifying and advancing the policy solutions that meet the measure of the problem, like carbon pricing, will turn the challenge Scott has put forward into the job-creating, money-saving, energy-innovating opportunity it provides.

Editor’s Note: Edited for length

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