Mary Sullivan: Carbon pricing plan is needed

Editor's note: This commentary is by state Rep. Mary Sullivan, of Burlington, a Democrat who represents Chittenden District 6-5 in the Vermont House of Representatives.

[T]he heart of a good democracy includes engagement and the honest discussion and debate of issues affecting the government and its people. President Trump’s use of “alternative facts,” however, makes such debate almost impossible.

In this past election, it was extremely disappointing to see a climate and clean energy bill that I introduced along with Rep. David Deen and many co-sponsors to help our state transition from a fossil fuel economy to a green, clean energy future, misrepresented and maligned by Trumpian rhetoric.

Our carbon pricing proposal happened to be tax reform that would – according to thorough study – strengthen our economy and create jobs. A few facts were always left out of the opposition’s propaganda: that every Vermonter would receive a tax cut; that every Vermont business would receive rising rebates; and, as a state, we’d invest in weatherization and clean energy for low-income Vermonters.

Of course the Koch brothers are very opposed to any legislation that prices carbon and have certainly put their money behind defeating all such proposals. But let’s remember that the Koch brothers and others who have made their billions in the oil industry benefit financially from keeping a fossil fuel economy going; the rest of us do not.

There is now exciting new data showing the health benefits of reducing our use of fossil fuels.


There is now exciting new data showing the health benefits of reducing our use of fossil fuels. As a matter of fact, due to reduced fossil fuel usage in the Northeast brought about because of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), supported and passed by Gov. Jim Douglas, people are living longer and healthier lives. Abt Associates, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently issued a report quantifying these benefits. Called “Analysis of the Public Health Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, 2009-2014,” the report “shows that since 2009, RGGI has significantly reduced air pollution from fossil fuel power plants, improving the health of people living in the Northeast. Residents are now experiencing significantly fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and respiratory illnesses. Moreover, residents of neighboring states not specifically part of RGGI have also seen health benefits from the program.

Key findings from the report include: 300 to 830 lives saved; more than 8,200 asthma attacks avoided; 39,000 lost work days averted; and $5.7 billion in health savings and other benefits. In short, carbon pricing saves lives and money. To read the full report go to: www.abtassociates.com/rggi.

By pricing carbon pollution, people respond by using less carbon-based fuel and by seeking alternatives. It means our kids have fewer asthma attacks. It means older people have fewer respiratory illnesses. It means we all live healthier lives. While studies can show a dollars-and-cents benefit to these health improvements we all know breathing well and feeling healthy are priceless.

Fossil fuel reduction is a win-win all around. In 2013, Vermonters spent over $2 billion a year on oil and gas. Because we don’t produce any fossil fuel in Vermont, 80 cents out of every dollar spent on fossil fuel is sucked out of Vermont’s economy. If those dollars were to stay in Vermont by increasing support for alternatives to fossil fuel-based transportation and by promoting weatherization so that homes are more healthful, warmer and fuel efficient, our economy would benefit by keeping dollars local, improving our overall health and creating new jobs in a growing field.

As the fossil fuel age comes to an end and climate change threatens so much of what we value (including our health), we as legislators must be planning for the best transition possible. I believe when our constituents have all the facts in front of them they’ll demand that we pass some form of carbon pricing here in Vermont along with other measures to accomplish a smooth transition into the climate economy.

Little Vermont has led the fight against big challenges in the past by thinking big and attacking problems before they attack us. Let’s get that fighting spirit back.


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