Interesting hire by VPIRG. They’ve signed on businessman and veteran Democrat Tom Hughes as Campaign Manager of Energy Independent Vermont. EIV, for those just tuning in, is a coalition of businesses, nonprofits, academics, and advocates with the goal of addressing climate change and as VPIRG puts it, “grow[ing] the economy by putting a price on carbon pollution.”
Also known as the carbon tax. Well, not exactly, but more on that later.
The hiring of Hughes is a little unusual, in that advocacy organizations like VPIRG usually fill their staffs with energetic and (ahem) cheap young people. Hughes has been around for a while. “Our partners and our financial resources allowed us to bring in a really seasoned person,” said VPIRG chief Paul Burns.
Hughes was a top Democratic activist in the late 90s and early Aughts. He served a shift as VDP Executive Director and held the same post for Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, he was a staffer in five presidential campaigns, and managed Doug Racine’s gubernatorial campaign in 2002.
He’s spent the past several years in the business world, as a division president of Country Home Products and co-founder of a renewable energy firm. Burns cites the combination of political and business experience as key in the EIV campaign. “Tom has a stellar reputation,” he said. “He’s not a partisan hack. He’s distinguished himself as someone who can run campaigns and be effective in the business world.”
Speaking of the carbon tax, despite the scare-mongering of Vermont Republicans and the timid response from leading Democrats, EIV will actively promote a carbon tax in the 2016 legislative session. Not that they expect to prevail: “I won’t predict that a bill will pass the Legislature and land on the Governor’s desk in 2016,” said Burns. “But we’re making progress each day toward our goal.”
Still, “2016 is a really important year to move the conversation forward. The challenges are really great for passing [the carbon tax], but there’s an awful lot of progress we can make and a lot of conversations we need to have.”
VPIRG’s proposal involves a tax on carbon pollution, with offsetting tax cuts and credits for businesses and individuals. Ten percent of the revenue would be invested in energy efficiency and cleaner technologies. The VTGOP has focused on the carbon tax as an issue of convenience against the Democrats, who have responded to the pressure in a, shall we say, less than heroic spirit. (This is me talking, not Burns.)
They could have tried to explain the tax offsets and the economic growth to be won by investing in efficiency and green energy — hell, the Shumlin administration constantly touts clean energy as a major driver of economic growth. They could have argued for the environmental imperative of taking prompt action. They could have pointed out that the huge costs of carbon pollution are not accounted for in our flawed market system.
Indeed, they could point out all the ways that government policy and resources artificially prop up fossil fuels, artificially lowering their costs and making it harder for alternative energies to compete in a rigged marketplace.
Yes, the Dems could have made those arguments, but instead they turtled. Can’t blame ‘em, I guess; Democrats understandably have a touch of PTSD that flares up when Republicans accuse them of being tax-and-spend liberals.
With or without the open support of top Democrats, VPIRG and EIV will soldier on, having “many, many conversations,” hoping to generate momentum for a carbon tax, and perhaps winning passage of some incremental legislation in 2016.