Vermont Senate seeks funding for energy efficiency

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(Host) When it comes to creating new energy efficiency programs, the problem is how pay for them.

The Vermont Senate has been grappling with the issue and is moving away from a tax on heating fuel.

The most recent proposal had been to tax the gross receipts of fuel oil dealers.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Legislature spent three weeks learning about climate change in the beginning of the session.

The centerpiece of the Senate’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gases is to make homes and buildings more energy efficient. A bill from the Natural Resources Committee would pay for conservation measures with a 1% gross receipts tax on fuel oil companies.

But Republican Governor Jim Douglas doesn’t like the tax idea and has indicated he may veto it. And many in the Democratic majority in the Senate are leery of the tax idea as well.

The bill is now in the Senate Finance Committee, where Washington Senator Ann Cummings is chairwoman.

(Cummings) “The issue as always is how do we finance this, because if you charge on a sliding scale, you have to find the money to offset it. The proposal came to us with a gross receipts tax on fuel dealers. We’re not at all sure that’s the best taxing source to look for and we’re working to find other revenue sources.”

(Dillon) Cummings says the goal is two-fold: First get something the governor can sign.

(Cummings) “There’s a great deal of concern that a tax of that kind would be vetoed, and we would then end up with nothing.”

(Dillon) And second, she wants to find a taxing mechanism that goes after where the real money is, like oil company profits.

(Cummings) “There’s concern that the record profits by some of the major fuel companies, but it’s very difficult for a state to get a handle on that. But I think that’s really where the issue is, it’s really where the excessive profits are being made.”

(Dillon) Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin says he’s committed to the efficiency program, and is looking at other funding sources.

(Shumlin) “We should find a way to raise 1% revenue from heating fuels, or some other revenue source, to get that money to Vermonters so they can conserve, use less oil and save money.”

(Dillon) James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says the public shouldn’t lose sight of the potential savings.

He points to a study done for the Douglas Administration that projected Vermonters could save $486 million dollars over 10 years, if homes and business were made more energy efficient.

Moore sees no problem in taxing fuel oil sales to fund the program.

(Moore) “The cost of heating oil has increased by 114% over the last four years. That’s killing Vermonters. Oil and propane companies are making the profits there, and it’s entirely appropriate to levy a gross receipts tax that is not a consumer level tax, but is one that’s on oil and propane companies.”

(Dillon) The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to work on the legislation later this week. Cummings says it may be some time before the bill is finished.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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