MONTPELIER — Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson is part of a mayoral coalition in four Northeast states calling for a carbon tax on fossil fuels in Vermont.
Watson joined Mayor Miro Weinberger of Burlington and others in calling for “carbon pollution pricing” at the Vermont Energy Climate Action Network annual conference in Fairlee last weekend. The other mayors in the coalition include: Mayor Seth Leonard, of Winooski; Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, of Somerville, Massachusetts; Mayor Kim Driscoll, of Salem, Massachusetts; Mayor Dan Drew, of Middletown, Connecticut; and Mayor Svante Myrick, of Ithaca, New York.
Despite a law requiring the state to reduce emissions 50 percent by 2028, data shows carbon emissions continue to rise in Vermont, up 16 percent between 1990 and 2015, according to Department of Environmental Conservation Air Quality and Climate Division. The state has a goal of being 90 percent carbon-neutral by 2050. Montpelier has a more ambitious goal of being 90 percent carbon neutral by 2030.
Watson said it is difficult to deny climate change because of its visible effects which include warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events such as fires, floods and droughts.
“Cities are too practical to deny climate science, because we see the effects of it on the ground,” Watson said in a statement. “Pricing carbon is the most expedient and obvious solution to climate change, and now is the time for expedient solutions. If we, as mayors, can help smooth the way for sensible climate policy, I’m all in.”
Speaking Tuesday, Watson said she joined the mayoral coalition last week, shortly before it was announced at the climate conference and said she stood with Weinberger in calling for a carbon tax.
“What prompted me to join?” Watson said. “The only way that we are going to adequately address climate change is through legislation, particularly legislation that makes renewable energy and energy conservation financially attractive.
“I am more than willing to lend my voice to call on the Legislature to put a price on carbon pollution, as that is the most obvious solution that enables broad-scale change. There are other measures that I think the Legislature should take as well to address climate change and move us towards energy independence,” she added.
Watson stressed that she was acting independently of Montpelier City Council in calling for a carbon tax.
“This issue has not been discussed with the City Council, and since it’s a coalition of mayors it does not require their approval,” Watson said. This is not an official position of the city or of the council. This just involves mayors.”
Nor was Article 4, approved by Montpelier voters in the November midterm election, in any way connected, Watson said. The article proposed seeking approval from the Legislature for a charter change “to regulate issues and activities within the city that relate to community and environmental sustainability.” The city hopes to be able to regulate single-use plastics, such as plastic shopping bags, drinking straws and food containers, to reduce plastic pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans.
“So it’s not related,” Watson said. “However, as a part of that charter discussion, we talked about the possibility of regulating energy efficiency, which would also require a charter change.
“We’ll be taking up that issue for a possible charter change in December. Energy efficiency is absolutely an issue related to climate change, one that needs to be addressed. The lack of energy efficiency in buildings is a major problem, and we may be able to help move the dial there. This is also all aligned with Montpelier’s goal to reach net-zero energy and energy independence,” Watson added.
Watson also noted that she was an author of the ESSEX Plan — a carbon fee and rebate program proposed by a coalition of environmental and business leaders — that is one possible route for the Legislature to take to put a price on carbon.
Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, rejected the ESSEX Plan in the last session of the Legislature because he said a carbon tax could hurt Vermont’s economy and disproportionately affect lower-income and rural Vermonters.