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."