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.