Commentary

McClaughry: The Climate-Conscious Transportation Game

by John McClaughry

The red hot policy issue in the state right now is S.5, the (un)Affordable Heat bill passed by the Democratic supermajority in the House and Senate. Gov. Scott vetoed it last Thursday.

Largely out of sight, the annual transportation bill (H.479) has easily passed both chambers and is now the subject of a committee of conference to negotiate the final version, which should appear this week.           

The theme of this bill indicates how “climate change” has become its leading concern, inasmuch as transportation is the leading cause (40%) of carbon dioxide emissions. The bill contains a great deal of spending to retard climate change while avoiding politically dangerous ideas like driving up heating fuel prices to reduce thermal emissions (S.5).

Consider Sec. 2: “This act includes the State’s fiscal year 2024 transportation investments  intended to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, reduce  fossil fuel use, and save Vermont households money in furtherance of the policies articulated in 19 V.S.A. § 10b [overall transportation policies] and the goals of the Comprehensive Energy Plan and the Vermont Climate Action Plan and to satisfy the Executive  and Legislative Branches’ commitments to the Paris Agreement climate goals.” 

The Vermont Climate Action Plan, issued in 2021 by the Vermont Climate Council, contains literally hundreds of recommendations for steps Vermonters  must take to look like we are somehow defeating climate change.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 demanded that the 194 participating nations take sweeping steps to achieve the same objective mainly by curbing carbon dioxide emissions. After six years practically none of those nations are complying.

In any case, the Transportation Plan, in addition to the usual selection and adjustment of bridge and highway projects, contains millions of dollars of new spending aimed at getting people out of internal combustion vehicles, getting them into electric vehicles, and luring them into bike paths, public transit, and even passenger rail.

Installing DC Fast Charging stations for electric vehicles remains popular, with the hope that highway users will adjust to entering a charging station only to find three other cars impatiently waiting for a working charger to become available.

There are more subsidies for buyers of EVs, some of which will be very deep to assure that many more lucky people with incomes up to $100,000  will “benefit from electric driving, including Vermont’s most vulnerable”. 

There’s a Carbon Reduction Formula Program, a Mileage Smart program, a Complete Streets Program, and the Replace Your Ride program which pays you to scrap your gasoline powered car and find some other way to get around.

There has to be some serious tension between drivers, especially in the business sector, who want safe, smooth, and well-maintained highways and bridges, and the Climate Council enthusiasts who argue that spending money to achieve safe, smooth, and well-maintained highways and bridges just encourages more car, van, bus and truck travel, using more gasoline and diesel fuel and even more electricity.

This is not to say that any of these programs is actually harmful. The question is whether it makes sense to shower tax dollars on them at the expense of the highways and bridges that have been the state’s transportation policy goal for the past hundred years.

One sore point raised by the EV promotion campaign is the fact that the fuel taxes that support the Transportation Fund are entirely paid by internal combustion vehicles. What happens in the not so distant future when almost all gas and diesel powered vehicles, along with their motor fuel taxes, are required to disappear?

So far the climate-conscious legislature has refused to shift any of that burden to EVs, arguing that it’s an obstacle to the desperate need to get 170,000 EVs on the roads by 2030 as recommended by the Climate Council. (Present number: around 9,000).

This bill creates the machinery for producing a radical solution: the Mileage Based User Fee. In this scheme, there will be no more fuel tax at the pump. Instead, drivers will pay a tax on miles driven between odometer readings at annual inspections. If you drive to Florida, you’ll pay Vermont for the miles you drove in eleven other states. Tourists who now pay 20% of gas taxes at Vermont pumps ($78 million) won’t be taxed at all.

Alternatively, GPS satellite tracking of your onboard transponder will add up the number of miles your vehicle is driven in the state, and the state will levy a user fee on the total. That of course would mean that the government will have a complete record of where you’ve driven, when you’ve driven, and how fast you’ve driven. You might call it Big Brother in the Sky.

MBUF is two years off.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org)

Categories: Commentary

3 replies »

  1. Look… People have to heat their houses. Period. The amount of oil used will be the same, no matter what the price. Sure, you can nibble around the edges with various weatherization options, but I would venture that most folks can’t afford to retrofit their houses to new systems unless they go deeper into debt they cannot afford.

    Fear not, because I have the simple solution. Require ALL gasoline powered cars and trucks to get 50 MPG, both highway and city. Assuming that doubles the average of what cars and trucks get for MPG now, would this not be the same as reducing vehicle emissions by 50%? Of course it would.

    And don’t tell me it’s impossible. I had a 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier that got 40+ MPG in all kinds of driving all year long for the entire 12 years I owned it.

  2. I watched a finance report showing auction lots full of repossessed vehicles. The scenes of areas where recent flooding, fires, and tornados showing vehicles and homes heavily damaged or destroyed. The financial ruin of many citizens is the main story and very few are paying attention. All by design. The economic collapse is here and while our leadership play their assigned and well compensated roles, the all out chaos poised to commence in a matter of weeks will catch many off guard and many will be facing financial ruin.

  3. Require all cars and trucks to get 50mpg and fuel use will be cut by about 50%?? Aside from the physical impossibility of achieving that goal with all cars and especially trucks there is that oft forgotten spoiler called Jevons paradox. The more efficient something becomes, the more people will use that resource … not conserve it. If gasoline is cheaper, people drive their cars more. If the car’s miles per gallon is increased, people see it as a plus and will drive more for their convenience because it doesn’t cost any more. This is why climate ideologues always wants fossil fuels to be as expensive as possible .

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