Posted by Espinoza on Rhode Island Public Radio on January 29th, 2016.
A new bill that puts a tax on carbon has garnered broad support from environmental advocates, businesses, and religious groups. Supporters believe the bill, called Energize Rhode Island, will help reduce carbon emissions and stimulate the economy.
It’s likely no coincidence that State Rep. Aaron Regunberg from Providence introduced a carbon tax bill on his birthday this week.
“For me, I think that we all have a deep responsibility to think of the young people of Rhode Island – my generation, future generations,” said Regunberg. “So I think we need to be very clear: If we fail to enact ambitious climate action, we are condemning the babies whose birthday is today, who are being born at Women and Infants, to a dangerous future.”
Regunberg said a carbon tax bill would reduce the danger by cutting down greenhouse gas emissions – emissions that are disrupting the climate, changing ecosystems and affecting human health around the world. He said the state has made a commitment to do its part to reduce those emissions.
“We passed Resilient Rhode Island [Act], which says we need to meet certain emission reduction goals and we’re not on track for those yet,” said Regunberg.
Regunburg’s bill proposes a fee of $15 per ton of carbon sold in the state. The idea is to encourage companies to move away from fossil fuels. (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has also introduced a carbon tax bill at the federal level.)
Opponents of carbon taxes argue companies will simply pay the fee and pass it on to consumers by raising prices, “which this bill addresses by providing benefits to individuals and businesses to offset those pass-along costs,” said Douglas Hall, a policy director at the Economic Progress Institute.
Those benefits Hall is talking about would come from the money raised by the carbon tax. If approved, the tax is expected to generate about $140 million in the first year. Most of the money, about 70 percent of it, would be returned to households and businesses in the form of rebates, which Hall said would make up for any cost increase on gasoline or utility bills.
“The Economic Progress Institute, formerly The Poverty Institute, we’re very concerned about the well-being of low- and middle-income families here in Rhode Island,” said Hall, “and that’s what was the nexus for us on this particular issue.”
The rest of the money raised by the carbon tax would go into the state’s newly established Green Infrastructure Bank to invest in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy. Supporters say that would add jobs to those sectors. And they’ve marshaled support from more than 100 small businesses in Rhode Island.
Architect Ken Filarski, chairman of the Rhode Island chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, is pleased other New England states are proposing carbon tax bills, too.
“So it’s not just one state doing it but it’s a collective whole so that the region can become that economic powerhouse,” said Filarski.
Filarski said more businesses are starting to understand that well-designed carbon fees can help their bottom line. He points to major corporations, such as Microsoft, Disney, even Exxon Mobile, that charge themselves a fee for carbon pollution. They use money from the fees to make their companies more energy efficient and sustainable.
Forty state representatives have co-sponsored the Energize Rhode Island Act, but they still expect opposition from other lawmakers and fossil fuel companies.
Posted by Steve Ahlquist on RIFuture.org on January 26th, 2015. See the original for video clips of the press conference.
New carbon pricing legislation, backed by the Energize RI coalition, was introduced by Representative Aaron Regunberg (D District 4 Providence) in the House chamber on Tuesday. The legislation “is designed to provide incentives for renewable energy use, encourage the development of cleaner renewable energy projects, and create local jobs.”
“The legislation would establish a new Clean Energy and Jobs Fund that will invest in renewables and efficiency and help Rhode Islanders lower their energy costs,” said Energize RI in a press release, “The Fund will be financed by a fee on carbon pollution, beginning at $15 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions, paid by the companies that sell fossil fuels in the state.”
Traditionally, user fees hit members of low income communities hardest, but Douglas Hall, Director of Economic and Fiscal Policy at the Economic Progress Institute, said that this bill addresses that problem head on and to good effect. “This bill does a few things that we at the Economic Progress Institute think are important. A portion of the carbon tax will be passed onto consumers, including lower-income families, in the form of higher prices. The Energize Rhode Island Act addresses this concern, by providing rebates to Rhode Island families and businesses, ensuring they come out ahead. We have seen the incidence analysis of this bill and are confident that lower income Rhode Islanders will be more than protected from additional costs.”
Introducing the bill, Regunberg spoke about the economic, legal and moral responsibility Rhode Island has to take on such an “ambitious legislative proposal.”
“Economically, this is where the world is moving… Rhode Island can either be a follower, and get the least economic benefit from these trends, or we can be a leader for this country.
“Legally, in 2014 we passed the Resilient Rhode Island Act, which obligated our state to reach certain emission reduction goals. Right now we are not on track to reach those goals…
“And morally, we have a responsibility to Rhode Island’s young people, to my generation and to the generations that come after mine… by failing to enact significant climate legislation, we are condemning the babies who are born today at Women and Infants to a dangerous future.”
Small business owner Joseph Fernandes saw the issue from an economic point of view. “If you were to attempt to open a business today in many parts of our state, you would find yourself facing a whole new set of barriers that didn’t exist for my parents. You would be faced with the burden of having to pay for costly flood insurance premiums that will only grow higher. Climate change means your business is always vulnerable to an extreme weather event that could permanently close you down.”
The Energize RI Coalition sees their efforts as complementary to other state programs dealing with climate and energy. Ken Filarski of Filarski Architecture said the the clean energy sector of our economy is one of the fastest growing in the state. “This sector is already growing at a rate that is stronger than the rest of Rhode Island’s economy, supporting over 10,000 jobs and adding 1,600 more by the end of the year. Passing this legislation means more funds to install solar panels, insulate houses, and implement other energy efficiency measures. It means more Rhode Islanders working in a field that has proven itself to be both profitable and sustainable.”
Posted by Joe Baker on the Newport Daily News on January 13th, 2016.
Legislation being proposed by a coalition of regional organizations would levy a tax on all fossil fuels coming into the state, in an effort to reduce the state’s carbon footprint by encouraging use of renewable energy sources.
The Energize Rhode Island coalition will introduce its legislation at a Jan. 26 press conference at the Statehouse in Providence. Similar bills will be sponsored by Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, in the House of Representatives, and Sen. William J. Conley Jr., D-East Providence, in the Senate.
Coalition chairwoman Brigid Ryan, a Newport resident, said the group is made of mostly environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and the Rhode Island Green Building Coalition. But it also includes Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light, a group of 20 congregations and faiths that have banded together on the climate-change issue, and the Cranston design company Filarski Architecture and Planning.
The proposed legislation would set a tax of $15 per metric ton on the carbon content of fossil fuels imported into Rhode Island and on all electricity distribution companies, Ryan said during an interview Tuesday at The Daily News. The money generated by the tax would be funneled into what the coalition has dubbed a Clean Energy and Jobs Fund, which would be distributed back to consumers and businesses in an effort to offset the expected increases in the cost of non-renewable energy sources.
After deducting 5 percent of the money raised for administrative costs, the fund would be divided by sending 40 percent as refunds in the form of tax credits to Rhode Island households; 30 percent to businesses in the state, prorated by the number of employees; and 25 percent into the fund for weatherization and energy-efficiency grants.
In 2014, the General Assembly established a goal of reducing the state’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. But the progress hasn’t been fast enough for the coalition partners.
“We need some bold measures to achieve that,” Ryan said. “And some of us feel even that is not aggressive enough.”
A study conducted by Regional Economics Models Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based public policy modeling firm, predicted the legislation would create 1,000 jobs in the first two years, primarily in construction of renewable-energy systems and in health-care industries, and nearly 5,000 jobs by 2040. It predicted the size of the gross state product would increase by $60 million in the first year and $250 million by 2040.
But the primary goal of the initiative is to reduce carbon emissions, which have been identified as the prime cause of climate change.
“We see the impact of climate change right here in Newport in higher tides. Everybody needs to take action,” Ryan said. “This is the kind of climate change action we can take (that will make a difference).”
The six New England states together with New York, Maryland and Delaware have joined together to form a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with the goal of gradually reducing carbon emissions from power plants. According to a 2013 story in the Washington Post, carbon-dioxide emissions from the region’s power plants went from 188 million tons in 2005 to 91 million tons in 2012.
This legislation seeks to take that even further, Ryan said. And redirecting taxes on out-of-state fuel companies into the Rhode Island economy will “benefit everyone,” said coalition member Mary Jane Sorrentino, who lives in Jamestown.
“Something like this can work so well in Rhode Island because we are a small state,” she said.
The coalition will need to emphasize those latter points if it hopes to win enough support in a state legislature where House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston, adheres to a “jobs and the economy” mantra.
Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, will be introducing the “Clean Energy Investment and Carbon Pricing Act” on his 26th birthday, and he said he’s motivated in part by a desire to help future generations. “If we don’t make ambitious changes very soon, the kids who are born in Women & Infants today are going to be growing up in a scary world, with environmental catastrophes,” he said.
But Regunberg said he’s also motivated by a desire to boost the local economy. “We don’t produce any fossil fuels in Rhode Island, so every year we spend more than $3 billion to import fossil fuels, sending money to Saudi Arabia, Texas, Pennsylvania or wherever,” he said. “Instead, we could be putting that to work here for our local economy. From a macro-economic perspective, this makes perfect sense.”
The “Clean Energy Investment and Carbon Pricing Act” would charge a “carbon fee” or “carbon tax” of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide on fossil fuels at the point of sale. That would generate about $140 million per year, and 70 percent of that money would be go to local employers and residents as “direct dividends” while 25 percent would go into energy efficiency, "climate resilience" and renewable energy projects.
J. Timmons Roberts, a Brown University environmental studies and sociology professor who is providing technical assistance to Energize RI, said carbon pricing has succeeded in British Columbia, and a similar proposal has been made in Massachusetts. “But we would be the first state to put a fixed price on carbon in the U.S.,” he said.
Roberts said critics might write this off as just another tax, but “it’s not like other taxes in that it’s giving back to people and businesses." Some might fear the money will disappear into the state’s general fund, “but the funding will go into a clean energy and jobs fund,” he said. And some might say this issue should be dealt with on the national level, “but that’s just not happening in short term, given the gridlock in Washington,” he said.
Others might reject the whole notion of manmade climate change, but an economic analysis done for the bill is not based on assumptions about climate science, Roberts said. “This is good for the Rhode Island economy whether climate change is happening or not, but it is irresponsible not to take climate change seriously with all there is at stake. And besides, these steps will produce good, stable jobs."
Carbon pricing legislation would steer RI toward cleaner energy while boosting local economy
STATEHOUSE - Backed by a coalition of advocates from business, environmental and faith communities, Rep. Aaron Regunberg announced that he will introduce legislation today to reduce Rhode Island’s reliance on fossil fuels and bolster the state’s clean energy and green business sector.The legislation is designed to provide incentives for renewable energy use, encourage the development of cleaner renewable energy projects, and create local jobs.
“2015 was the hottest year in human history, and 16 of the last 18 years have been the hottest on record,” said Representative Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “Here in the Ocean State, where so many of our people and businesses are located along the shore, we stand to lose a great deal from increased sea level rise, more severe flooding, and more extreme weather events, which we are already experiencing. We must take more decisive action on climate change, and carbon pricing is a proven tool that will help us reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels while directly benefiting Rhode Islanders.”
The legislation would establish a new Clean Energy and Jobs Fund that will invest in renewables and efficiency and help Rhode Islanders lower their energy costs. The Fund will be financed by a fee on carbon pollution, beginning at $15 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions, paid by the companies that sell fossil fuels in the state.
Besides investing in clean energy efforts, the fund would also send a per capita or per employee rebate to every family and business in the state. “The rebate system accomplishes two things,” said Regunberg. “First, it protects Rhode Islanders from pass-along costs by the fossil fuel companies. And second, it creates a concrete economic incentive for individuals and businesses to invest in efficiency and renewables, because the cleaner and greener you are, the more you’ll benefit from that rebate.”
Representative Regunberg was joined by advocates from the Energize Rhode Island Coalition, a group formed last year to promote the legislation. Several business members of the coalition spoke, including Joseph Fernandes, a small business owner in Providence for over a decade. “If you were to attempt to open a business today in many parts of our state, you would find yourself facing a whole new set of barriers that didn’t exist for my parents,” Fernandes said. “You would be faced with the burden of having to pay for costly flood insurance premiums that will only grow higher. Climate change means your business is always vulnerable to an extreme weather event that could permanently close you down. These are on top of the challenges that already exist and they will only grow more dire year after year. These issues cut into both your profits and your ability to expand. Something must be done, and that’s why I am proud to join over 100 small and medium businesses across Rhode Island who have endorsed the Energize RI Act.”
According to the Energize RI Coalition, carbon pricing will complement existing state programs to help Rhode Islanders reduce their energy costs, make renewable energy more available, and put people to work in the growing clean energy industry. “This legislation allows us to invest in one of the strongest segments of our economy, the clean energy sector. This sector is already growing at a rate that is stronger than the rest of Rhode Island’s economy, supporting over 10,000 jobs and adding 1,600 more by the end of the year,” said business owner Ken Filarski of Filarski Architecture. “The Energize RI Act will accelerate this field. Passing this legislation means more funds to install solar panels, insulate houses, and implement other energy efficiency measures. It means more Rhode Islanders working in a field that has proven itself to be both profitable and sustainable.”
Business interests are not the only ones represented in the coalition, of course. “While issues of climate-change pose huge threats to all of us, it’s clear that lower-income families have been paying the highest price to date for an economy so heavily reliant on carbon-based energy sources. “We see this, for example, in the higher incidences of childhood asthma in our inner cities,” said Douglas Hall, Director of Economic and Fiscal Policy at the Economic Progress Institute. “This bill does a few things that we at the Economic Progress Institute think are important. A portion of the carbon tax will be passed onto consumers, including lower-income families, in the form of higher prices. The Energize Rhode Island Act addresses this concern, by providing rebates to Rhode Island families and businesses, ensuring they come out ahead. We have seen the incidence analysis of this bill and are confident that lower income Rhode Islanders will be more than protected from additional costs."
An economic impact study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) estimated that the legislation would create a net growth of 1,000 to 2,000 new jobs in just the first two years of the program. It also noted that Rhode Island spends more than $3.1 billion annually on fossil fuels, nearly all of which flows out of the state, since Rhode Island does not produce these fuels itself. Incentivizing Rhode Islanders to switch from out-of-state fossil fuel sources to local renewables and efficiency will help keep more of that money in Rhode Island and protect the state from the volatile market swings that often affect these fuel prices.
The legislation establishes that 25 percent of the fees collected for the Clean Energy and Jobs Fund would be used for climate resilience, energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy programs, to be administered by the state infrastructure bank created through legislation last year. Thirty percent would be used to provide direct dividends to employers in the state per full-time employee, and 40 percent would be used to provide direct dividends for every single state resident. Employees and residents would receive their funds via tax credits, or direct checks for those not required to file taxes.
According to the coalition’s research based on average energy use data, the program will not increase energy costs for the average Rhode Island family and businesses In fact, by paving the way for a transition to an energy independent economy, the policy will reduce costs for all Rhode Islanders in the long term. In the short term, the average Rhode Island household receives a net gain from the rebate. Even higher-income households will have an average net cost of only $25 per year toward the Clean Energy and Jobs Fund.
The bill has been cosponsored by 40 representatives, including House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. Carlos E. Tobon (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket) and Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston).