Over the past couple of years Burlington, and in particular Burlington Electric Department, have rolled out several initiatives that leaders claim are meant to help low-income residents. Yet these incentives, often in the form of rebates, are handouts to a handful of individual wealthy residents while doing absolutely nothing to make our environment fairer for those at the bottom, for those experiencing climate change the hardest.
Take for example, Burlington Electric’s plan last year to give a rebate to low and moderate income residents. Many of us questioned how a low-income resident can have a spare $10,000+ to spend on a new car, or $250+ a month for car payments. In May VPR looked at the program and found it to be an utter failure. 4% of rebates went to those with moderate or low incomes, and 2% of the money from rebates went to those folks. Yet Darren Springer had to try to spin this as a successful program.
“I consider it a starting point really,” said Darren Springer, the utility’s new manager. “I think we want to do much, much more in this space. We want to make it so that every customer who is interested in electric vehicles can access them.”Springer said the rebate is not just about helping low-income people join the energy revolution — it’s also to help Burlington Electric meet a state mandate.
These $80,000 would have been better spent adding more buses to our meek public transit system, so that buses could be more consistent. The money could have been used to run better bus services on weekends. It could have been used to give out 1300 free bus passes to low-income residents, or try a trial program of universal free buses. All of this would have done more to reduce emissions than helping 75 wealthy people, who don’t need the money, to buy a new electric vehicle.
On top of this, Burlington Electric is now giving away $100 rebates for homeowners or $3500 rebates to lawn care businesses for electric mowers. Rebates for wealthier homeowners and business owners, nothing for low-income workers and renters.
The problem with neoliberal environmentalism, which is entirely based on individual solutions (like the class-biased bike share program above) and not community-oriented solutions, is that the folks most likely to access these services are those already with means. Our city’s ‘environmental’ programs are never used by those who we are told is the intended target. For a public utility, they sure seem focused on helping those who need support the least.