Today the non-partisan group Vermont Watchdog announced that a renewable energy developer funded a study that supports a $500 million carbon tax in Vermont that targets fossil-fueled energy sources. The developer would also stand to benefit from the carbon tax as the money would go toward building more wind and solar farms. The issue arose on Dec. 3 when pro-carbon-tax representatives of Energy Independent Vermont “debated leaders of the free market think tank the Ethan Allen Institute on taxing gasoline, propane, natural gas and other fossil fuels to combat global warming.”
During the debate, backers repeatedly referred to the 2014 study to support the $500 million carbon tax and to claim it would boost Vermont’s economy and create jobs. The study, called the Economic, Fiscal, Emissions, and Demographic Implications from a Carbon Price Policy in Vermont, was prepared by Regional Economic Models Inc., and was funded by Vermont’s most “prominent green-energy CEO.” The study, however, only targets fossil-fueled energies while ignoring any such taxes on wind and solar, which are far less reliable sources of energy.
Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), who spoke to Watchdog.org about the study, said: “(It’s the) Blittersdorf Foundation. It’s written in the REMI analysis that there are several foundations that helped us pay for that study.” And while the Dec. 3 debate focused mostly on the economic impact of such a tax and its “negligible impact on reducing CO2,” pro-tax backers used the study to justify the half-billion-dollar carbon tax by saying it would help the state’s economy and create new jobs.
AllEarth Renewables CEO David Blittersdorf, who operates solar and wind energy plants across Vermont, is “best known for telling Democratic voters that Vermont’s plan to become 90 percent renewable by 2050 could require giving up cars and constructing wind turbines across 200 miles of ridgelines.” Burns said of the debate that they didn’t try to “hide the fact” that the study was funded by Vermont’s most prominent green-energy proponent Blittersdorf. “People should look carefully at that study, or any study, and [see] who funds it,” Burns said.
During the debate, Burns said the economic modeling from the study would create “2,000 jobs, grow disposable income by $150 million, and cut carbon emissions by 2 million tons annually.” But in 10 years, the tax would also add “88 cents to the price of every gallon of gasoline” sold in Vermont (which doesn’t include existing local and federal taxes). The study also doesn’t show “job losses as companies cut workers to make up for revenues eaten by higher energy prices.”
Burns also told Vermont Watchdog that they stand by the REMI analysis, as it is the “nation’s expert in economic analysis at the state level. It is their model,” Burns said. But when asked how he felt about studies funded by fossil fuel companies, Burns said you had to pay closer attention to them and repeated that this renewable energy-funded study is “sound and can’t be taken apart.”
But giving up hundreds of miles of Vermont’s scenic ridge-lines and placing large, expansive wind turbines would not only hurt Vermont’s profitable tourist industry, but create an everlasting eye sore for residents living in the state. More injurious to this blotch, Vermonters would have to pay some of the highest gas prices in the country for little-to-no reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Burns also said that getting funding from Blittersdorf was justified because VPIRG and other environmental groups “needed a report to persuade lawmakers that a carbon tax was in the state’s economic best interests.” What he appears to miss is that the renewable energy company funding this study would directly benefit from its conclusions, a clear conflict of interest.
Burns justified using money from a renewable energy company by saying it would be too costly to do the study themselves and needed the money from an outside group. “It’s a very costly kind of analysis to do.” Burn also said that if “people want to throw bricks at it that way,” that’s fine with him.
Watchdog is a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit organization that “advocates for a more transparent government. Through state-based investigative reporters in more than 40 states, including Vermont, Watchdog.org exposes government waste, fraud and abuse of power.”