A study supporting a proposed $500 million carbon tax in Vermont was funded by a renewable energy developer who stands to benefit from taxes targeting competing energy sources.
On Dec. 3, 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.
While the debate focused largely on the tax’s economic impact relative to its negligible impact on reducing CO2, backers repeatedly referred to a 2014 study that claims a carbon tax would boost Vermont’s economy and create jobs.
The study — Economic, Fiscal, Emissions, and Demographic Implications from a Carbon Price Policy in Vermont — prepared by Regional Economic Models Inc., was funded by Vermont’s most prominent green-energy CEO.
“(It’s the) Blittersdorf Foundation. It’s written in the REMI analysis that there are several foundations that helped us pay for that study,” Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group, told Vermont Watchdog.
David Blittersdorf, the AllEarth Renewables CEO who operates solar and wind energy plants across Vermont, is perhaps 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.
“We made no bones about it (being funded by Blittersdorf) — we didn’t hide that fact. I think people should look carefully at that study, or any study, and who funds it,” Burns said.
In the debate, Burns said the economic modeling analysis shows the carbon tax will create 2,000 jobs, grow disposable income by $150 million, and cut carbon emissions by 2 million tons annually.
Within 10 years, the tax potentially could add 88 cents to the price of every gallon of gasoline sold in Vermont. The report doesn’t foresee job losses as companies cut workers to make up for revenues eaten by higher energy prices.
“We stand by the REMI analysis. REMI is the nation’s expert in economic analysis at the state level. It is their model,” Burns said.
Asked how he views studies funded by fossil fuel companies, Burns replied, “I think you have to look carefully at them, and I encourage anybody to look carefully at this study. Try to take it apart.”
He added that funding from Blittersdorf is 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.
“It was necessary for us to be able to do our homework, to be able to present a proposal that we felt would actually benefit the economy and the environment,” he said.
“In order to do that analysis we needed to pay for it. It’s a very costly kind of analysis to do. So you do that, and if people want to throw bricks at it that way, that’s fine with me.”
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]