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Poll Shows Respondents Split Over Vermont's Response To Climate Change

A gas station on a snowy day.
Elodie Reed
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VPR File
According to a new VPR - Vermont PBS poll, a majority of registered voters in Vermont don't want to raise taxes to reduce carbon emissions, though if the state did, more respondents prefer a tax on wealthy residents versus a tax paid at the gas pump.

A new poll of registered Vermont voters from VPR and Vermont PBS found respondents divided over whether state officials are doing enough to address climate change. But a majority don't want to increase taxes to tackle the problem.

Full VPR - Vermont PBS 2020 Poll Results

Climate change is already disrupting Vermont. Winters are shorter and have less snow. Storms are becoming more severe and the annual average temperature is rising.

Efforts to tackle climate change in Vermont haven’t been entirely successful. In January, a report from the Agency of Natural Resources found that while greenhouse gas emissions declined from 2015 to 2016, the overall emissions were still 13% higher than 1990 levels.

Over the course of almost seven decades, Burlington resident Sherry Hunt said she’s seen winters in Vermont change dramatically — and that worries her.

"We have to do something, or we're going to lose this earth." — Sherry Hunt, Burlington

“I can remember when I was a kid, that we’d have these great big huge snow banks,” she said. "The climate change is so drastic, it’s pretty shocking.”

There are already numbers to back this up. Federal climate data show the average snow cover in the state is getting smaller.

Hunt said she wishes Vermont lawmakers would do more to tackle climate change: “We have to do something, or we’re going to lose this earth.”

She's with the 39% of those surveyed in the new VPR-Vermont PBS 2020 Poll who think state officials aren’t doing enough to tackle the problem.

But Daniel Brown, from Proctor, is with the other 39% of poll respondents who think state officials are doing the right amount.

“I know there’s a huge push for renewables around these parts,” he said. “I mean, we’re seeing solar panels all over the place — I know they’re giving big incentives for that.”

A pie chart showing whether people think state officials are doing enough to tackle climate change in Vermont.
Credit Kyle Blair / Vermont PBS
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Vermont PBS

Democratic Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas said she found the two poll groups Hunt and Brown represent "fascinating."

“An equal split between people who think the porridge is too hot or the porridge is too cold maybe,” she said.

Copeland-Hanzas chairs the Climate Solutions Caucus, and she’s one of the names on a long list of House members who introduced a bill this session that would require the state to drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Copeland-Hanzas said the legislature is also working on smaller initiatives.

“Helping low-income people weatherize their homes," she said. "And we’ve been working on EV [electric vehicle] incentives and charging infrastructure, we’ve been working on public transit.”

But according to the poll, Vermonters don’t want to pay for these sorts of initiatives: 51% of respondents said they would oppose a tax increase to support efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Two bar charts showing whether people would want to pay taxes to reduce carbon emissions, and if so, whether those taxes should be on the wealthy or on everybody at the gas pump.
Credit Kyle Blair / Vermont PBS
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Vermont PBS

That number doesn't surprise Republican Rep. Rob LaClair. He said Vermonters believe the climate is changing, but disagree on how to address it.

“Some folks, especially if you’re talking a carbon tax or some sort of a tax or fee, feel that it’s a bit punitive and it’s going to definitely cost us all more money,” he said. “Let’s take a look to see if what we’ve done has been working, and if it has, then we’ll continue on down that path. If it hasn’t then yes — take a step back, come up with another plan.”

Environmental advocates pushed back on the framing of the poll question. Johanna Miller, the Energy and Climate Program Director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said the question of raising taxes to fight climate change is incomplete without saying what the taxes would fund.

“When you’re talking about just raising their taxes to tackle climate change, they want to know what you get for that investment — and fair enough,” she said.

"I don't think we need to be taxing every blue collar worker in Vermont ... when there's lots of money that can be gained through some of the more wealthy members of our state." — Daniel Brown, Proctor

Brown, the Proctor resident, said he’d probably be opposed to a tax hike unless it was focused on wealthy residents.

“I don’t think we need to be taxing every blue collar worker in Vermont in order to do that when there’s lots of money that can be gained through some of the more wealthy members of our state,” he said.

Brown’s not the only person in favor of this idea. According to the poll, when asked to choose between an income tax on the wealthy or a gas tax, 60% of respondents said they’d tax the wealthy.

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