By Rob Roper
Introducing the latest carbon tax bill (H.791) to the House Energy & Technology Committee, lead sponsor Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, provided an example of how this tax and rebate scheme would affect a single mother who is low income and lives in a rural region of the state. Under the ESSEX carbon tax, fifty percent of revenue raised would be used to lower the electric bills of all Vermonters, the other half would go toward low income and rural rebates.
Copeland-Hanzas claims that her fictitious single mother would “come out a little bit ahead” because of the low-income rebate, the rural rebate, and — this is critically important — “also because she’s smart enough to figure out how to take advantage of some of those programs that are out there that will help her transition onto renewable energy.”
In other words, if one can’t afford to buy a new electric heat pump, or a bank of solar panels, or an electric or hybrid car (or at least one that gets much better gas mileage), the most financially vulnerable Vermonters will lose out under the ESSEX carbon tax.
The detail Copeland-Hanzas leaves out is “those programs that are out there” cannot accommodate all of the low income and rural Vermonters, smart or not. Most will be left out in the cold.
Sen. Chris Pearson, D-Chittenden, lead sponsor of the senate companion bill (S.284), was challenged by a colleague in the Vermont Climate Caucus, who noted, “In terms of the effect on low income Vermonters, it seems like in the best case scenario your gas bill goes up, you’re electric bill goes down, you might be even. But it seems to me, if you’re among the most wealthy Vermonters you can easily save a lot more than lower income [Vermonters] because if you have fossil fuels heating your home, you can go out and buy a pellet stove, you go buy heat pumps, you can go buy a Tesla. You won’t even notice the bump in your budget, and you’re … reaping all the benefit. How does this benefit low income Vermonters?”
Pearson replied, “Yeah, it would be a good problem to have if wealthy people stopped burning fossil fuels to heat their homes and drive around. I mean, that is the goal.”
Reaching that goal under the ESSEX carbon tax means the only people paying the carbon tax would be Vermonters who lack the financial capital to invest in some very expensive energy efficiency technology. As such, poor Vermonters stuck with gasoline powered cars, oil burning furnaces, etc., will end up subsidizing the electric bills of their better-off neighbors who can afford Priuses, solar panels, weatherized homes, electric heat pumps and the like. Tax the poor to subsidize the rich. Great plan (not!).