Mass. needs to put a price on carbon

Actions must back words if we want to be a climate leader

SINCE THE TRUMP administration stands alone as the only national government in the world rejecting the Paris Climate Agreement, states across the U.S. are standing up, saying “We Are still in” when it comes to climate action. Massachusetts is among them, but we need to back words with action.

Under the Global Warming Solutions Act, we’re required to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Getting to 80 percent in a relatively short period – the more challenging of the two goals by far – will take new, far-reaching legislation.

As Massachusetts lawmakers, we’re prepared to do what it takes. That’s why we’re in Bonn, Germany, to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Along with 2,500 other state legislators, city officials, religious groups, universities, and businesses, we’re letting the world know we’re ready to lead.

Backing words with the right action will be easier after Bonn. Here, we’re finding broad agreement that the best way to curb carbon emissions is to “put a price on carbon.” More than 40 countries already price carbon, harnessing the power of markets to expedite the transition to renewable energy. The premise is simple: a fee on fossil fuels drives down their use and incentivizes clean energy instead. The revenue generated can be rebated back to households and businesses, or used to invest in green infrastructure.

After asking for advice from economists, scientists, policy experts, and regular Massachusetts voters, we’ve put forward two versions of carbon pricing for our colleagues’ consideration.  Both place a fee on fossil fuels as they enter the state. Senate bill 1821 would rebate 100 percent of the revenue back to households and businesses, while House bill 1726 would rebate 80 percent and deposit the remaining 20 percent into a Green Infrastructure Fund.

Massachusetts-specific studies show that legislation like this decreases air pollution and saves lives. More good news: the economists say that, by cutting consumption of expensive fuel imports and redirecting the dollars locally, carbon pricing will create 12,000 net new jobs and increase Gross State Product by $600 million.

Over the course of this conference, we’ve spoken to island nation presidents who are watching their homelands vanish below rising seas; to business leaders committed to diminishing the carbon footprints of their companies; to young people fighting for a more hope-filled future; and to non-government organizations (NGOs) pushing elected officials to enact meaningful solutions. They come from all corners of the earth, but their stories, hopes, and goals are much the same.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is at the forefront of our minds. Our constituents aren’t deniers; they already believe we’re threatened by a changing climate. Communities along the coast face erosion and property loss, and the entire state is vulnerable to extreme heat, superstorms, and drought.

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The big tool not yet added to the Massachusetts toolbox is carbon pricing. We’re doing almost everything else of any consequence, especially in the electric power sector, but we are woefully behind in addressing emissions from privately-owned cars and trucks and from commercial and residential buildings.  Transportation is the biggest source of Massachusetts’ emission problem, and little else other than carbon pricing offers itself as an effective response. Bonn confirms what we already knew: for the Bay State, carbon pricing’s moment is here.

State Rep. Jennifer Benson, who represents the 37th Middlesex House District, and state Sen. Michael Barrett, who represents the Third Middlesex District, both participated in the U.S. Climate Action Center during the COP 23 climate negotiations.