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McQuiston: Carbon Reduction Capitalism

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"Transportation is Vermont’s biggest carbon problem.";

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has called for a revenue-neutral Carbon Pollution Fee – meaning that all the fees would be returned to Vermonters through a system that is progressive and protects low- and moderate-income Vermonters.

The mayor didn’t offer specifics, but other carbon tax plans include charging everyone for using fossil fuels, from filling up with gasoline, to home heating, to manufacturing, to distribution.

The money raised then would go back into the economy to support electric vehicles, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Basically, everyone would pay in. Not everyone would see the financial benefit initially, but over the long term the negative effects of climate change would be reversed and the Vermont economy would be saved.

But a carbon tax, no matter what you call it, would create winners and losers and resentment among many. It’s a carrot and stick plan with barely a carrot.

Transportation is Vermont’s biggest carbon problem, and the mayor points out that more than a billion dollars goes out of state in energy purchases.

So, why not find the capitalistic carrot in all this?

Renewable energy is no longer a blue state/red state, tree-hugging industry full of whimsy and pixy dust.

Ski resort colossus Vail recently signed contracts to buy the equivalent in renewable energy of all the electricity their ski resorts use - including Okemo and Stowe.

Vail is buying its renewables primarily from new wind farms being developed in Nebraska – a state that already has low-cost electricity, mostly from coal-burning plants – because business is business. Red state developers see a business opportunity and the green is for money as much, or more so, than it is to offset global warming.

New regulations may have killed big wind development in Vermont, but there’s still solar, hydro, conservation and energy storage, so why not be creative and explore the carrot of capitalistic opportunity by making businesses the first winners, instead of consumers.

Car dealers, say, get the carbon tax money for reducing the cost of electric vehicles. We could enact a new law to require solar panels on every new building.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about who’s going to lose money as who’s going to make it.

Tim McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.
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