Nate Hausman: Grab a Paddle

This letter is authored by the of the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Energy and Climate Committee Chair. It ran in the Time Argus on November 18, 2014.

Grab a paddle

Stuck up a creek without a paddle. Everyone knows the old saw (or perhaps its less-sanitized variant). When Hurricane Irene struck Vermont, the expression became dramatically apt. Figuratively, and in a few cases, literally, we were powerless and paddle-less as creeks swelled and waterways flooded our homes, businesses, and fields. The damage to Vermont alone has been estimated at close to three quarters of a billion dollars.

As fitting as the metaphor was for Hurricane Irene, when it comes to dealing with the increasing severity of future storms, we are not, in fact, powerless: We have some paddles. Putting a price on carbon pollution is a critical one to prevent Irene from becoming the new normal. It’s an important step in doing our part to protect our children and to avoid a climate headed toward cataclysm.

The science is clear. The costs are evident. Applying an actual price tag to these fossil-fuel carbon costs is a potent, common sense way to propel our state toward a clean energy future. But how, in our market-based economy, do we charge for the societal costs of fossil fuel?

Fair pricing is key. Charging fossil fuel companies a rational tax for the damage their products inflict is the clearest, most straightforward strategy to bring market forces to bear on the problem. Certainly, the oil and gas industry can — and, no doubt, will — pass along some of the costs to us consumers, but under Energy Independent Vermont’s proposal, the bulk of these revenues will go straight back into the pocketbooks of ordinary Vermonters, particularly those most in need. As a result, fossil fuel companies will be forced to take responsibility for their share of the societal costs they impose on all of us. For our part, we’ll all get more help to reduce our fossil fuel use and save money.

While Tropical Storm Irene may have left us temporarily up the creek, it gave us fair warning. With carbon pricing, we now have a paddle ready. Let’s put it to use.