Weather Woes, Climate Innovation

Sandy Levine | @CLFLevine

The region’s rollercoaster weather, with the warmest winter in recorded history, followed by frigid temperatures now, calls out for taking bold action to tackle climate change. Never-ending muddy roads and expanding potholes wreak havoc on our cars. More rain than snow makes for terrible skiing. The icy pavement and sidewalks have sent more than one friend into the emergency room. No question, climate change is upon us, bringing with it high costs and high aggravation.

photo courtesy of Warren Flick @ flickr.com

Muddy roads and potholes are just one impact of this year’s rollercoaster weather – and just one of the costs of climate change. Photo courtesy of Warren Flick @ flickr.com

To their credit, the Vermont Legislature’s House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy took two weeks of testimony on carbon management. Hearing from economists, fuel dealers, leading businesses, low-income advocates and faith leaders provided much-needed inspiration and good ideas. As the CEO of Seventh Generation, John Replogle, told the Committee, “You can’t run a healthy business on a sick planet.”

The Committee saw the breadth and depth of support for taking bold action to tackle carbon pollution. Already, Vermont businesses including ski areas, Ben & Jerry’s, and King Arthur Flour issued a climate declaration calling for putting a price on carbon pollution. They see a healthy Vermont with snowy winters as key to business success. Economists back up their clarion call. Professor Nicholas Muller, who teaches Economics at Middlebury College, explained to the Committee how taxing carbon can effectively correct a market failure that now allows polluting for free. Other businesses explained how pricing carbon supports innovation, rewards success, corrects market inefficiencies and builds on existing policy without adding complicated new programs.

Some businesses are not waiting for someone else to solve the problem. Seventh Generation has a self-imposed carbon tax. Their CEO explained that this serves as an incubator spurring innovation as their business, employees, and suppliers find new ways to reduce fossil fuel use. From transportation to packaging and improved operations, Seventh Generation is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions year over year, with a 12% reduction in sales-normalized emissions in 2014. The good ideas that come from this innovation can then be replicated in other businesses. And these are the businesses that have a leg up in 21st-century commerce, which increasingly demands high performance.

Managing carbon needs to work for everyone. Low-income Vermonters already pay a higher portion of their income on fuel to get around and heat their homes. A table shared with the Committee from Energy Independent Vermont showed that fossil fuel taxes can increase, and a low-income couple with average heating fuel use and average annual miles driving will pay no more. The rebates and other tax cuts offset the pollution tax. The added benefit is that investments in cleaner solutions bring lower income Vermonters more fully into the new opportunities to save money and reduce pollution. Insulating their homes, installing heat pumps or solar panels, or having access to more fuel-efficient cars ensures everyone can be part of the needed clean energy transformation.

Mark Curran, the owner of Black River Produce, told the Committee that his business purchases 1200 gallons of diesel fuel each day. They drive 50 trucks across the region serving 2500 customers and provide product from 200 Vermont farms. They support putting a price on carbon pollution. It is the right thing to do, and in line with their business goals and values.

John Quinney, a fuel dealer with Vermont Energy Coop, which sells about 1.2 million gallons of heating fuel each year, highlighted for the Committee some important ways a tax can be structured to help fuel dealers transition and diversify as Vermonters use less fossil fuel.

Soryu Forall, a faith leader, emphasized the moral imperative to care for the earth and its inhabitants that is a key part of many faiths. With millions of people now being displaced or killed by global warming, he explained how a carbon pollution tax advances justice by reducing pollution and the suffering it causes.

Putting a price on carbon pollution is just another example of Vermonters’ continued commitment to common-sense solutions.

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