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Regional initiative

04/24/06 12:00AM By John McClaughry
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(HOST) Commentator John McClaughry is concerned that environmental policy makers may be forgetting about the law of unintended consequences - especially when it comes to consumers.

(MCCLAUGHRY) If there is anything that really pushes my hot button, it's a complicated, opaque public policy scheme that picks the pockets of ordinary people, without them being able to understand what's being done to them and by whom.

One of the most ingenious of such scams is marching forward in Montpelier, well under the radar. It's called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

For the past decade a broad coalition of environmental groups has promoted the idea of state government taxation of carbon dioxide emissions. Why? Because they want more government control of our energy-based economy. Because they want government to tap a new source of funding for subsidies distributed to their favorite industry, "renewable energy". But since these candid arguments don't sell politically, the advocates have built their argument around the supposed perils to humanity of "global warming".

Here's how the argument comes together. "Global warming is a mortal threat to the future of the human race! People - not dear old Mother Nature - cause global warming by burning carbon, thus emitting the dangerous greenhouse gas carbon dioxide."

"So the government must force us to cut back our carbon dioxide emissions. Since the current Congress isn't willing to impose carbon controls from Washington, a bunch of states in a region like the Northeast must get together and do it. They'll require their coal and gas-fired power plants to buy emission tickets. That will make those fuels more expensive, the electric ratepayers will pay higher prices, and the governments will have a new income stream for its worthy purposes".

The Initiative will distribute those emission tickets among the state governments that thought it up. This is like printing monopoly money, and requiring energy generators to buy it with real money. Where will they get the real money? By increasing the price they charge for electricity.

Our state government will pocket all of the proceeds from selling its emissions tickets to power plants located elsewhere in the Northeast. The prices Vermont consumers pay for carbon-fired electricity will rise slightly, and the money from auctioning off the emissions tickets will come pouring in from non-Vermonters. The Public Service Board will spend this free money to subsidize mainly wind energy and methane generation.

Here's an idea. Instead of using the funds as handouts to favored industries, why not just give the money back to the ratepayers in the form of lower power bills. Will the Board do that? Certainly not, unless told to by the legislature. And the legislature won't do that, because the majority is eager to generate a new pot of money to shower more corporate welfare on their friends in the "renewable energy" business.

So our legislators have a choice: lower electricity bills for everybody, or subsidize the methane and wind industries. One would think that would be an easy choice - especially for liberals.

John McClaughry is president of the Ethan Allan Institute, a Vermont policy, research and education organization.
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