The unsuspected upsides of a carbon pollution tax

Traffic backs up along Williston Road near Route 2A during rush hour.
Traffic backs up along Williston Road near Route 2A during rush hour.

By Luc Reid

Special to the Observer

In recent months, the popularity of a Vermont carbon pollution tax has been growing rapidly, yet for many Vermonters, the idea still seems illogical and far-fetched. For instance, Black River Produce uses at least 1,200 gallons of diesel every day, yet Black River owner Mark Curran recently stood in front of the Vermont House Natural Resources and Energy Committee to voice his support for the plan that would require his company to pay a new tax on all that fuel. How can that make sense?

It may seem as though the only reason for a carbon tax is to stop climate change and it’s true that it’s one of the most powerful steps Vermonters can take to preserve the climate for future decades and for the generation that’s growing up now. Yet there are two other key reasons to support the plan: money and independence.


The plan currently backed by Energy Independent Vermont, a coalition of 20 organizations like the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation and the Conservation Law Foundation, calls for 90 percent of the proceeds from the tax to go directly back to Vermonters in the form of refundable tax credits for every adult Vermont resident, to tax reductions for businesses and towards rebates for organizations like schools, nonprofits and town governments.


The other 10 percent goes to energy efficiency programs, with special attention to lower-income Vermont families and thus creating long-term savings from steps like weatherization and solar panels. For instance, a low-income family that gets free weatherization services through this program could save almost $800 a year.

In other words, a carbon pollution tax isn’t designed to generate money for state government to spend: it’s designed to make the real-world costs of fossil fuels apply by putting a price on the damage they’re doing to our shared resources. The money collected this way then goes back to Vermonters.


Yet there’s another financial advantage to a carbon pollution tax that may be an even bigger deal and this is the energy independence part: Currently, Vermonters spend more than $2 billion each year on fossil fuels that come from out of state. By creating a carbon pollution tax and making renewable energy more competitive, Vermont can greatly increase the amount of energy generated in-state and keep that money recirculating at home, improving prosperity and generating thousands of jobs while strengthening the Green Mountain State by shrinking our dependence on other states and other countries.

Details of the proposal both Energy Independent Vermont and many private Vermonters support can be found at

Sustainable Williston ( works on issues like clean energy, water quality and planting trees. Current group projects include working to contribute ideas and feedback for the new Town Plan in progress; an April Stools Day pet waste cleanup to protect Williston waterways; and the Birth Tree Project, which celebrates children coming into Williston families with the gift of a tree to plant. Meetings are the first Wednesdays of each month at 7:15 PM at the Dorothy Alling Library. The next meeting is May 4th