Posted by Tim Faukner on EcoRI on January 27th, 2016.
PROVIDENCE — It may not be politically doable this year, but efforts to add a fee on all fossil fuels entering the state is getting attention.
For the second consecutive year, carbon-tax legislation was introduced in the General Assembly. This time, freshman Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, took the lead as the bill’s sponsor.
Flanked by five fellow state representatives, two business owners and an economist at a recent Statehouse press event, Regunberg said climate change is happening and costing the state money. Last year was the hottest on record for the planet and unseasonable weather, such as the 68-degree temperature on Christmas Day, is becoming more common.
“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 extreme weather evens,” Regunberg said.
A carbon tax is an ambitious approach to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and boosting the state’s renewable-energy sector. But its one that is generally opposed by business groups, which consider the idea of adding fees on all fossil fuels an unreasonable cost of doing business.
The bill, like other carbon-fee proposals, uses the tax to fund renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects. A portion of the fee is also paid out as a dividend to residents and businesses.
A Clean Energy and Jobs Fund would be funded through a $15 fee on each ton of greenhouse gas emitted by fossil fuels sold in the state. A coalition of environmental groups, businesses and religious institutions, calledEnergize Rhode Island, is leading the campaign.
“We call for a bold response to set the state on the right path to meet aggressive emission-reduction targets that were set forth in the Resilient Rhode Island Act,” said Brigid Ryan, the coalition’s chair.
Such a sweeping cost aimed at one of the biggest and most influential industries in the country is perhaps why few regions have established a carbon tax. British Columbia has the most well known. Ireland and Finland also have tax-carbon programs. According to at least one study, the British Columbia program, which started in 2008, appears to have positive results, creating jobs and lowering greenhouse-gas emissions.
Energize Rhode Island estimated that a carbon tax in Rhode Island would create up to 2,000 new jobs during the first two years.
One of the principal arguments for a carbon tax is that it keeps money in Rhode Island that otherwise is spent on imported fuels. According to the Office of Energy Resources, the state spends $3.1 billion on out-of-state fossil fuels.
Last year, Rep. Daniel McKiernan, D-Providence, pulled his sponsorship from the legislation, after he concluded that a carbon tax would harm the economy. The 2015 legislation was proposed by Brown University student Solomon Goldstein-Rose, with support of other students and faculty.
This year, a broader coalition of business leaders and lawmakers are endorsing the idea. The sponsors of the legislation, as well as House leadership, say a carbon tax may not get approved in 2016, but it could be gaining acceptance and pass in the future.
“It’s a new idea. So new ideas usually take a little time and people to get accustomed to it,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told ecoRI News. “And (we will) let it go through committee and we’ll get input and we’ll let the process go it’s normal course.”
A hearing for the bill is expected in late March or early April.