‘Hurtling Toward Environmental Disaster’: New Coalition of Mayors Aims to Reverse Climate Change

Calling itself the Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing, the group wants a fee on fossil fuels, to slash carbon emissions

The mayor of Vermont’s largest city has announced the formation of a new coalition of Northeast mayors that’ll push for a regional response to climate change.

“We are hurtling toward environmental disaster if we make no change,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington. “We need action here in the Northeast now. We can’t wait for the Trump Administration to save us.”

The coalition calls itself the Northeast Mayors for Carbon Pollution Pricing. Members will call on their respective legislatures to enter multi-state deals to establish fees on carbon pollution.

Members so far include the mayors of Middletown, Connecticut, Ithaca, New York, Montpelier and Winooski, Vermont, and Somerville and Salem, Massachusetts.

The group would like a so-called carbon pollution fee placed on fossil fuels such as gasoline and home heating oil, to incentivize efficiency and switches to alternatives like electric vehicles—to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Weinberger said he wants the concept to be revenue-neutral, with those fossil fuel fees later rebated—under a system built to protect low- and middle-income folks. He also said the system should be focused around boosting clean energy investments and on preventing money for fossil fuels from being sent to out-of-state companies.

However, opponents are sceptical, and warn rural America would suffer.

“They need to drive long distances to get to work,” argued Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, describing people who live in rural sections of the Northeast. “They can’t buy a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf; they need a truck or a four-wheel drive vehicle. The idea that people that live in rural areas would be subsidizing Teslas in Burlington is frankly obscene.”

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, has also opposed past attempts at carbon taxes here.

A spokeswoman for the governor said late Monday that Scott has not seen details on any new proposals from the mayors’ group, but remains firmly opposed to a carbon tax.

Weinberger acknowledged the skepticism, but said carbon pricing policies could work to spur new innovations that would boost the economy—and cited to a new federal report that warned of dire economic costs from climate change.

The mayor pointed to British Columbia as a place where a carbon tax has helped reduce emissions, saying that reduction happened while British Columbia’s gross domestic product has grown.

“I think the mood of the public is shifting on climate change, and I think that may well make it possible to make progress that may not have been possible in the past,” Weinberger said in an interview with necn.

Weinberger added that the carbon pricing coalition is in its early stages, noting that the mayors are still working out specifics on their proposals.

Meanwhile, Burlington’s moving forward with goals to dramatically reduce its transportation and heating footprints, striving to become a net-zero city by the year 2030.

The city’s municipally-owned electric department already gets power from all renewable sources, and is working to expand the use of electric vehicles, cold-climate heat pumps and more.

“I think we have an opportunity still as a country—not just in Burlington and in Vermont—as a country to lead on these issues,” said Darren Springer, the general manager of the Burlington Electric Department. “Really, there’s an economic benefit if we do so.”

Mayor Weinberger said he hopes more mayors from around the Northeast will join his push, insisting the planet can’t wait for action on climate change.

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