November 2, 2015

ATTN: Mr. Paul Burns
Vermont Public Interest Research Group
141 Main St. #6
Montpelier, VT  05602

Dear Mr. Burns:

We find it interesting that a tax exempt “non-partisan” and “non-political” organization is inspired, perhaps asked, to do the work of defending a proposal sponsored by over two dozen Democrat legislators.

Their proposal (and make no mistake, it is their legislative proposal not yours) for a new tax on gasoline, and eventually on home heating and other energy, proposed by the Democrats is exactly the type of public policy — much of it advanced by your organization — that has lead Vermont to where we are today.  In our state middle class incomes are stagnant, working age Vermonters are leaving the workforce and the state and more drug dealers are moving in.

Vermont Republicans have a different view.  Instead of taxing our way out of this problem (which clearly hasn’t worked), we know we need to grow our way out of this problem.   If we do what’s necessary to keep the jobs we have, provide a stable and predictable political environment, help state government live within its means and fight for working families we know we will be able to make investments in energy conservation, weatherization and the real innovation we need to protect our environment.   That’s a real path forward — a path that leads to both economic security and a healthy environment for our families and future generations.

Make no mistake, unaffordable, anti-growth, anti-job policies have trapped thousands of Vermonters in a devastating economic cycle that Vermont must break.  That’s why our opposition to this new tax is so strong.

When you, your organization and Democrats say “make polluters pay” everyone knows what you really mean is make working Vermonters pay.  

Neighbors who have to drive to work or bring their kids to camps and sports would be subject to this new tax — just for living their lives. Families and businesses who heat with oil, propane, natural gas (even wood) would eventually be snared in the net.  The entire transportation economy that we rely on to move goods and services would see costs skyrocket. Home builders, plumbers, electricians — virtually every trade and small business — would all see higher costs.

Why? So you and your cronies can decide how to redistribute money to your wealthy donors by forcing Vermonters to purchase things they may not want using money they can’t afford to give up in the first place.  That’s not environmentalism.

I would be happy to address the “study” of this regressive tax proposal with my counterpart at the Vermont Democratic Party.  In fact, just last year I challenged them to a debate to discuss similar matters of substance — but I never received a single response.  Not one.

Here’s what we propose:

I would be happy to meet Dottie Deans, Chair of the Vermont Democrat Party, in an empty storefront or abandoned factory in downtown Springfield.  We could talk about how taking more money from people at the pump or from their wallets in winter isn’t going to help us restore hope and opportunity in economic centers throughout Vermont.

Or, if she prefers, I could meet Chairwoman Deans in Bennington where private employment has declined almost 10% and where the average household makes almost 30% less than the average household in Chittenden County (where things aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders), 20% of all households receive public assistance and food stamps and where net growth has declined 15% from its pre-recession levels.

Mid-November or early December for an hour one evening that works for both of us seems reasonable. I look forward to this opportunity and would welcome hearing from Chairwoman Deans directly.

Best Regards,

David A Sunderland E-Signature 072814.png

David Sunderland
Chair, Vermont Republicans


Chairwoman Deans
Vermont Press Corps

This letter was sent in response to Paul Burns press release on Thursday, October 29th.  A copy of that letter is below.


Dear David,

You claim that you’d like to encourage more public conversation around climate, energy and fiscal matters. Let’s do it. I challenge you to join me for a debate of these issues. I’ll be very clear, the release you put out yesterday was not only factually inaccurate, I believe it was intentionally so. But let’s see if you’re willing to defend it in public. I’m open to conversation about the time and place.

I look forward to your response.



VPIRG Challenges Head of the Republican Party to Debate Merits of Energy Independence and Climate Solutions

Montpelier, VT – The executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group today challenged the Chairman of the Vermont Republican Party to a debate over the merits of policies leading to energy independence and climate solutions for Vermont.

On Wednesday, Chairman David Sunderland issued a press release on behalf of the Republicans in which he mischaracterized a proposal now under consideration in the legislature that would create an Energy Independence Fund for Vermont. This fund would make it possible for many more Vermonters to take advantage of energy solutions (such as home weatherization, efficient air source heat pumps, rooftop solar and higher mileage vehicles) that save money and cut carbon pollution.

To fund this money-saving program, Vermont would finally hold polluters accountable by putting an end to the fossil fuel companies’ practice of using our atmosphere as their dumping ground for free. Instead, oil and gas companies would pay a tax based on the global warming impact of their pollution.

In his press release, Sunderland not only neglected to mention the importance of making money-saving clean energy choices available to more Vermonters, he also misled the public by failing to disclose that the proposal would also lead to massive tax cuts for both businesses and individuals.

“Mr. Sunderland claims that in the coming weeks and months he wants to engage Vermonters in a discussion around this proposal and matters of fiscal responsibility,” said VPIRG’s Paul Burns. “Let’s do it. I challenge you to defend your fear mongering in a public debate.”

VPIRG is part of Energy Independent Vermont, a large coalition of groups, businesses, low-income advocates and individuals supporting a price on carbon pollution in Vermont.

An in-depth economic analysis conducted by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) found that a tax on carbon pollution, when paired with major tax cuts elsewhere and investments in efficiency and clean energy would be an economic driver in Vermont. Indeed, the Province of British Columbia in Canada and a number of other nations around the world have had great success with similar programs.

“We can reduce pollution in Vermont while raising resident incomes by $135 million over ten years and creating thousands of new jobs,” said Burns. “Mr. Sunderland has no evidence to support the false claims he made in his statement yesterday. But if he’s serious about wanting to discuss this with the public, then I challenge him to do so. Let’s debate this in a public way and we’ll see who’s really standing up for Vermonters, and who’s protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry.”

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