Our opinion: Plugging in part of the solution

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On Tuesday in Montpelier, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore will host a public forum on a number of environmental topics, including the state's efforts to promote the purchase and use of electric vehicles.

The Scott administration has proposed spending $2.4 million on electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and another $1.5 million in rebates to help Vermonters purchase or lease new or used EVs. Peter Walke, the Deputy Secretary for ANR, will talk about those plans at the forum.

As Moore pointed out in a news release announcing the forum, transportation remains the state's single greatest contributor of greenhouse gases, contributing more than 40 percent of the state's greenhouse emissions. Those emissions are rising, not falling. Action needs to be taken.

One of the chief criticisms of a carbon tax is the fact that many Vermonters who live paycheck to paycheck live and work in rural areas where bicycles are impractical and buses are rare, and must rely upon their own gasoline-powered vehicles to get to their multiple jobs. That's what makes the proposals floated to date in Montpelier inherently regressive: They disproportionately hit people who can least afford to pay with a tax they cannot avoid. Some plans do offer rebates, but a rebate check every three months is cold comfort when you need that money in your pocket right now.

But doing nothing is hardly a viable alternative, given what the current science tells us about the impact climate change will have on our planet. And electric vehicles can help us reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. As the technology improves, they will become a more viable alternative — even in rural areas.

Some question the wisdom of state or federal government subsidizing a private industry. But it's a little late in the game to pretend that government has no role in helping build and sustain essential business systems that benefit the national interest. Governments granted monopolies to power utilities, and provided incentives for rural electrification to deliver that power. It heavily subsidized an entire network of interstate highways, directly benefiting scores of automotive industries that employed thousands of people.

Helping electric vehicles become more affordable, and building the infrastructure that makes them practical, is consistent with that history. And given the net positives of creating green jobs and lowering emissions, that's a public good worth taxpayer support.

The forum is scheduled for Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Dewey Building at 1 National Life Drive in Montpelier. If you don't want to burn the gasoline to get to the state capital, a live stream will be available at https://www.facebook.com/VTANR.

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