Mayor Miro Weinberger Announces Support for a Revenue-Neutral Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 1, 2018

Contact:  Olivia LaVecchia

                (802) 734-0617

 

Mayor Miro Weinberger Announces Support for a Revenue-Neutral Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee

Mayor Weinberger also announces the formation of a new coalition for regional action, “Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing.”

 

Burlington, VT – Mayor Weinberger today announced his support for Vermont to lead the nation in the fight against climate change, and become the first state to pass a revenue-neutral Carbon Pollution Fee. While Vermont can and must lead, given that this tool would be strengthened as a regional policy, Mayor Weinberger also announced that he has formed a coalition of mayors throughout the Northeast – “Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing” – who commit to calling on their state legislatures to enter a multi-state agreement to put a price on carbon pollution. Already, mayors from three neighboring states, along with fellow mayors from Vermont, have joined the coalition.

 

“Even as Burlington takes active steps to fight climate change, it is clear to me that we must do more,” said Mayor Weinberger. “The power of a revenue-neutral Carbon Pollution Fee is that, by sending a price signal, this policy works as a transformative tailwind that pushes forward all of our other efforts to decrease our carbon emissions and mitigate the damage that climate change is already inflicting on our communities, and does so without creating a drag on the economy.”

 

The Mayor made his announcement during the keynote session at VECAN’s 11th Annual Community Energy and Climate Action Conference, held in Fairlee, Vt.

 

Mayor Weinberger set out three foundational principles for a Vermont Carbon Fee, which are also the founding principles of the Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing:

 

  • Equitable: A Carbon Pollution Fee should be revenue neutral, rebating all fees back to Vermonters through a system that is progressive, and protects low- and moderate-income Vermonters. 

 

  • Effective: A Carbon Pollution Fee should reflect the actual economic cost of carbon pollution, and should be adjusted on a schedule to reduce pollution at levels necessary to meet the climate change goals of particular states and regions.

 

  • Pro-Economic Growth: A revenue-neutral Carbon Pollution Fee will ensure that resources are not removed from the economy and that over a billion dollars of fossil fuel payments are not sent out of state annually. This fee should be phased in incrementally to offer predictability, while at the same time giving a clear signal that can boost clean energy investment.  Early adopter states will be positioned to benefit from the Climate Economy and should work vigorously to bring neighboring states into this effort to mitigate any adverse impacts on border town businesses.

In his announcement, the Mayor stressed the economic costs of inaction. “Some still say that a fee on carbon will drag down the economy, but it’s climate change that will have the far greater economic cost,” said Mayor Weinberger. “What’s more, we now have the examples to know that a well-crafted carbon fee can spur economic growth. In British Columbia, for instance, after seven years of a broad-based carbon tax, the province’s emissions had fallen by 4.7 percent even as GDP had grown by more than 17 percent.”

 

The Mayor concluded his announcement with an expression of hope. “I know there is skepticism that Americans will ever accept a Carbon Pollution Fee, but we have overcome great environmental challenges before,” said Mayor Weinberger. “By acting now on carbon pricing, Vermont can break the gridlock that has held America back on climate reform for far too long and lead the country away from the dark future we are headed towards.”

 

Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing

Mayor Weinberger also announced today the launch of Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing, and that the leadership of this new coalition includes mayors from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, along with fellow mayors from Vermont. Several of the participating mayors shared the following statements:

 

“New York and the Northeast must lead on climate change, and even as Ithaca and other cities continue to work to become more sustainable, a carbon pollution fee that follows the three principles that this coalition is proposing is the kind of significant action that we ultimately need to take,” said Mayor Svante Myrick of Ithaca, N.Y. “We know that state and local leadership can be a powerful push for change, and I’m excited to join together with these other mayors from the Northeast to help move our region forward on this critical issue.”

 

“Climate change is a complex issue with moving pieces and challenges, but the City of Somerville, Massachusetts faces such challenges head on, and we’re proud to join in this call for action,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, Mass. “Just last week, Somerville launched our first-ever Climate Forward Plan, a data-driven approach to guide our goals and actions, such as our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Now more than ever, we need bold local solutions and transformational change that are only possible through collective action, and this call to action is an important step.”

 

“This initiative will enable the public to directly and positively improve our air and water, and to mitigate the catastrophic effects of a volatile and changing climate,” said Mayor Dan Drew of Middletown, Conn.

 

"Cities are too practical to deny climate science, because we see the effects of it on the ground," said Mayor Anne Watson of Montpelier, Vt. "Pricing carbon is the most expedient and obvious solution to climate change, and now is the time for expedient solutions. If we, as mayors, can help smooth the way for sensible climate policy, I'm all in."

 

For more information about the Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing, please see the website, available at <https://www.northeastmayorsforclimate.com>.

 

 

Please see the complete text of Mayor Weinberger’s remarks at the VECAN conference below.

 

# # #

 

Good morning. I am excited and energized to be here with all of you. Thank you VECAN and thank you Johanna Miller, Brian Shupe, and Jared and Sarah from EAN for the opportunity to address this engaged group of community energy leaders from around our state.

I appreciate very much the clarity provided by Bill McKibben and EAN in outlining the stark challenge ahead for Vermont, for our country, and for the international community in tackling climate change. I know that all of us here today feel the urgency to take action.

That’s why I’m here.

I am fortunate to be Mayor of Burlington, where we’re taking active steps and making real progress toward fighting climate change. For decades we have seen local and state leadership and progressive utilities and businesses here in Vermont make our communities more energy efficient and increasingly powered by renewables. Yet, we also know that here in Vermont and throughout the country we are falling behind our climate goals, and that much more must be done.

So today, I am here to announce a new commitment in the fight against climate change. I call on Vermont to lead America forward by becoming the first state in the country to establish a revenue-neutral Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee. Vermont should lead, as we have on so many other issues in our history. However, the road ahead will be harder if we act alone. That is why I am also launching today a coalition of Mayors – the Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing – to advocate for Carbon Pollution Fees in state legislatures around the region.

There are five main points I want to make to you today in support of a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee: One, although the problem of climate change is international in scope, we are at a moment in America today where urgent action is required at the state and local level; Two, a state Carbon Pollution Fee is the most transparent, comprehensive, and simple policy intervention we can make; Three, a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee should be implemented in a manner that is equitable, effective, and pro-economic growth; Four, a properly-designed Carbon Pollution Fee will create Vermont jobs and protect the economy, not hurt it; and Five, this is a battle that we can win, just as we have won so many before.

I will begin with the case for local and state action. 

I don’t have to tell this crowd, especially after the speech we just heard from Bill, that we face real and increasingly severe consequences from our lack of progress on climate change. In recent months we have been reminded of this virtually every day by biblical level calamities throughout the country.  With wildfires that move at the speed of a football field every second, superstorms almost the size of Colorado, and algal blooms depriving hundreds of thousands of drinking water, Americans have already suffered greatly from climate impacts.

As bad as the recent months have been, it will soon get much worse.  The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in October made it clear that we, as a global community, have just over a decade to slash carbon pollution 45 percent from 2010 levels to have a chance at mitigating some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Yet, at the very moment in which urgent American action is critical we face at least two more years – and hopefully not six – of leadership by a President so hostile to climate action that he is actually taking the country backwards, undoing the substantial progress towards carbon regulation made under President Obama.

Fortunately, there is an alternative route to national environmental progress – a route that has been trod many times in the past, through the country’s cities and states, our national laboratories of public innovation.

Take, for instance, the example of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), through which states require utilities to increase the supply of renewable energy to customers.  Iowa created the first RPS in 1983, and today Iowa is the leading state in the nation on wind energy, with nearly 37 percent of Iowa’s electricity coming from wind power. That impressive accomplishment dramatically reduced Iowa’s reliance on coal, created thousands of jobs, and attracted billions of dollars in capital investment to Iowa.

Iowa’s work triggered a domino effect with impacts that went far beyond its borders. Today, nearly 40 states have established RPS policies or goals, from red states to blue states and from coast to coast, with Vermont being one of the most recent states to adopt such a policy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory credits these state policies with driving forward roughly half the growth in renewable generation and capacity since the year 2000. That is real leadership and real change driven by state policy – even in the absence of strong federal action.

Other recent examples of state action creating national change in the last few years include the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, which created new toxics standards and gave the EPA the authority to protect vulnerable populations from toxic chemicals, and the Massachusetts state health care system, which was used as the template for the Affordable Care Act.

Cities too have been a source of climate progress, as Burlington’s environmental track record over the last thirty years makes clear.  As a city, we currently use about four percent less electricity today than we used in 1989, saving Burlingtonians millions of dollars annually in avoided retail power costs. And in 2014, a decade after making a decision to turn away from nuclear power, Burlington earned the honor of becoming the first city in the nation to source 100 percent of our electricity from renewable generation.

Today, led by our municipal electric utility – the Burlington Electric Department – Burlington is building upon that momentum. We are heading down a bold and ambitious path toward our goal of becoming a Net Zero Energy City by 2030 across the electric, thermal, and ground transportation sectors. Since setting this goal, we already have launched a variety of programs to move us toward strategic electrification, including the state’s largest electric vehicle (EV) incentives, and a forthcoming EV charging rate that will make EV charging significantly cheaper than filling up the tank with gas. In further pursuit of that goal, next year we will have a roadmap in place that outlines the path that we will take to achieve Net Zero.

Yet despite this progress in Vermont’s largest city and comparably aggressive state action, even here in Vermont, we have not been meeting our own climate goals, particularly in the heating and transportation sectors.  Our total emissions are up 16 percent since 1990, putting us increasingly of track from our statutory goal of reducing emissions 50 percent by 2028.  Clearly we here in Vermont must do more, both to meet our own state goals, and to help achieve the coordinated, urgent state action that is necessary in the face of a derelict federal government.  Vermont must lead, not wait.

How should we lead?  I recognize that there are a variety of ideas and potential solutions to reduce carbon pollution, and I am open to exploring all of them. In my view, however, a fee on carbon pollution is the most transparent, simple, and efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and would give a tailwind to all other Vermont efforts to combat climate change being led by the people in this room.

For years there has been consensus among economists that a carbon pollution fee is the best way to tackle climate change – a consensus that was formally recognized in October when the 2018 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to American economist Bill Nordhaus, to recognize his decades of pioneering work on carbon fees.

Increasingly, we are seeing examples of this academic work leading to on the ground progress in countries and regions that have implemented carbon fees.

For an examples of how a carbon fee can be both effective and support economic growth, we have to look only as far as our neighbors in Canada. In 2008, British Columbia instituted North America’s first broad-based carbon tax. By 2015, the province’s GDP had grown more than 17 percent, while emissions had fallen by 4.7 percent. More recent studies credit BC’s carbon price with reducing emissions by between 5 and 15 percent, and the policy has gained increasing acceptance and support from businesses who find a carbon fee to be a more predictable and straightforward regulation to plan for than other climate regulations. British Columbia is now in the process of increasing its carbon pollution tax, and the province’s work has sparked interest from Canada’s federal government in carbon pricing nationwide.

Today our climate initiatives in America take enormous effort, yet it feels like we’re still just nibbling around the edges of what we need to do. In contrast, the strong price signal of a carbon pollution fee offers a comprehensive solution. With this one move, we can create wind at the back of all our other work to address the causes and impacts of climate change.

Here is one example of how a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee would have an impact on the ground in Burlington. For 30 years, we have been trying to implement a district energy system, which would capture waste heat from our biomass generating station – 75% of which is lost today – to provide clean heat to large customers. Through this one intervention, we would be able to reduce total thermal greenhouse gas emissions in Burlington by 13 to 15 percent. This is a huge opportunity, bigger than anything else we have identified, and would be a significant innovation in clean energy. We are working hard on this initiative today and we are closer to making it happen than ever before, but we are competing against artificially low fossil fuel prices that do not factor in the damage these fuels do to human health and the environment. With a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee the economics of a district energy system in Burlington would be a slam dunk.

With a Carbon Pollution Fee, making the better choice for our climate would not only be the right thing to do, it would also make economic sense. A fee would impact decisions like whether transit agencies purchase buses that run on diesel or electric power; and whether families purchase a fossil fuel boiler or an electric heat pump.

The manner in which a Carbon Pollution Fee is implemented matters. In creating a Carbon Pollution Fee, we must ensure that it does not disproportionately impact low- and moderate-income Vermonters, that it does not negatively impact our state and local economies, and that it works. This is why I propose that a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee meet the key principles of being equitable, effective, and pro-economic growth.

By equitable, a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee should be revenue-neutral, and return all revenues back to Vermonters through a rebate system that is progressive and protects low- and moderate-income households.

By effective, a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee should reflect the actual economic cost of carbon pollution, and should be adjusted regularly based on science and data, to meet the pollution reduction goals of the state and the region.

By pro-economic growth, a revenue-neutral Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee will ensure that resources are not removed from the economy and that over a billion dollars of fossil fuel payments are not sent out of state annually. This fee should be phased in incrementally to offer predictability, while at the same time giving a clear signal that can boost clean energy investment.

This principle brings me to point number four, that a properly-designed Carbon Pollution Fee will be pro-economic growth, creating Vermont jobs and protecting the economy.

I recognize that that this will be contested as, all too often, incumbent industries such as fossil fuel corporations use the idea of a Carbon Pollution Fee as a wedge to divide Vermonters.  In Washington State this past fall big oil companies spent tens of millions of dollars convincing voters that a carbon fee would hurt the economy. 

But they are wrong that business can’t thrive under carbon pricing.  In fact, we have many examples in Vermont of decision-makers already using a carbon price to evaluate their decisions. Our Vermont Public Utility Commission, for example, already uses a carbon price to evaluate energy efficiency programs. And many Vermont-based companies, including Seventh Generation and Ben & Jerry’s, already impose a carbon fee on their own operations to support sustainable decision-making in their businesses. If businesses can do this on their own, then so can states.

Further, we also see the economic cost of inaction. Some skeptics will tell you that a fee on carbon will destroy the economy, despite much evidence and examples to the contrary. But, in reality, climate change is the threat that will devastate the economy. The National Climate Assessment released last week projects climate change’s direct damage to be the equivalent to 10 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of this Century – that’s more than double what we experienced during the Great Recession.

While this damage will dwarf any negative impacts of a Vermont Carbon Pollution Fee, I do think concerns about border impacts are legitimate. Part of a policy that is pro-economic growth is that we will need to work vigorously to mitigate any adverse impacts on border town businesses.

To that end, while Vermont must lead on this issue – on our own if necessary – this effort will be stronger if our neighboring states join us.

That is why today we are launching the Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing, a coalition of regional Mayors that will call on our state legislatures to enter a multi-state agreement to put a price on carbon pollution, and to work for a carbon pollution fee that meets the key equitable, effective, and pro-economic growth principles.  The leadership of this new coalition already includes mayors in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Vermont, including Anne Watson from Montpelier, who is here with us today.  The coalition has posted a website today, and I look forward to announcing more news about our members and work in the coming months.

I’ll leave you with this closing thought.

I know there is great skepticism that Americans will ever accept a Carbon Pollution Fee.  Many believe that Americans are so opposed to new government fees that proposals such as the one I have just made are politically toxic.  Even here in Vermont, politicians have treated explicit carbon pricing as a third rail.

This moment reminds me of the pushback Vermont’s mayors faced in the weeks after the shootings of 20 first graders in Newtown, Connecticut when we called for gun violence reforms. You can’t do that, the critics said. That will never happen here in Vermont, we were told.

Well, last winter, the leaders of this state stood on the front steps of the capital behind the Governor’s wooden desk as he signed three bills that proved these predictions wrong.

The same transformation and progress is possible with carbon pricing.  America has overcome great environmental challenges before.  The air we breathe is cleaner today than it was a generation ago and our lakes and streams are also cleaner.  The threat of acid rain that hung over Vermont during my childhood here in the Upper Valley has been tamed.  By acting now on carbon pricing, Vermont can break the gridlock that has held America back on climate reform for far too long and lead the country away from the dark future we are headed towards. 

I have great hope – and I look forward to working with all of you to make this strong step toward fighting climate change a reality. Let’s get it done. Thank you!

Press Release Date: 
12/01/2018
City Department: 
Mayor's Office