We need to put a price on carbon

Pollution pricing will reduce emissions, boost economy

AS THE STORMS LAST FALL AND WINTER have shown, the impact of extreme weather events on our way of life in the Commonwealth is already painfully visible. Global warming is very likely to increase the frequency and severity of such extremes in the years ahead unless we act energetically to shift from fossil fuels to viable energy alternatives. While it’s the extreme events that capture the imagination, the continued use of fossil fuels has numerous other impacts, ranging from loss of farmlands and increased droughts to high rates of asthma and the massive costs to preserve coastal cities; the list goes on. We need to significantly accelerate our pace in shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy.

We are writing to offer our strong support to pending legislation at the State House that puts a price on carbon pollution. We have come to this conclusion as a result of our life’s work. One of us (Bradley) is director of the UMass Amherst Climate System Research Center and the other (Boyce) is a UMass professor of economics who has worked extensively on policies for the pricing of carbon.

In a recent study for the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (in response to Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order 569 “Establishing an Integrated Climate Change Strategy for the Commonwealth ”), the Northeast Climate Science Center at UMass assessed the likely impact of future changes in climate on the state. The serious consequences revealed in this study – social and environmental as well as economic – – reinforce our belief that we must act decisively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Several bills introduced this session include provisions to implement carbon pollution pricing. Briefly, the bills would give Massachusetts residents, businesses, and other institutions an incentive to reduce emissions in a cost-effective manner, and would drive innovation in clean technology and energy efficiency. They also would lead to an increase in jobs. In short, they would accelerate the urgently needed shift from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy while being fair to citizens, organizations, and the Commonwealth as a whole.

Some of these bills specifically call for rebating carbon revenue to households and businesses to help them bear the increased costs of fossil fuels that accompany carbon pricing. These rebates would not dilute incentives to reduce emissions, since the amount that a household or business receives would not depend on their own use of fossil fuels. Carbon rebates will protect the purchasing power of middle-income residents, and generally increase that of lower-income residents. The bills include additional protections for employers and rural communities. And the bill from Rep. Jennifer Benson of Lunenberg directs a portion of the carbon revenue to a Green Infrastructure Fund that municipalities can use to pay for better transportation and more clean energy.

The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 mandates that the Commonwealth reduce its emissions by at least 80 percent below the 1990 baseline by the year 2050. We have made progress towards this goal, but much stronger action is needed now if we are going to reach it. In our view, the price-based approach in these bills offers the most effective way to promote the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy and reduce emissions while strengthening our economy.

The positive economic and employment consequences of carbon pollution pricing can be seen in experiences elsewhere. In Canada’s British Columbia, for example, carbon pricing led to a 5 percent decrease in emissions between 2007 and 2014 (despite an 8 percent increase in population), while the province’s gross domestic product rose 12 percent over the same period.

Passage of carbon pollution pricing will signal to the rest of the country our Commonwealth’s leadership in reversing climate change and implementing innovative energy policies. This will be attractive to forward-looking businesses seeking to establish a home base, and it will provide momentum for other states, especially in the Northeast, that are currently considering a carbon pricing system.

By driving the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy, carbon pollution pricing will facilitate and accelerate achieving the worthy goals contained in several other current bills, including those to increase the renewable portfolio standard, advance solar power, improve compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act, and to support environmental justice goals. Carbon pricing is also an important component of the Senate’s “Omnibus Clean Energy Bill,” S2302.

Meet the Author

James K Boyce

Professor of economics, UMass Amherst
Meet the Author

Raymond S Bradley

Distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Climate System Research Center, UMass Amherst
In sum, we believe that carbon pollution pricing is a “win-win” policy that will help move us towards the requirement of an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050, enhance the image of Massachusetts as a model for other states, and strengthen the economy of the Commonwealth.  Now is the time to act. We strongly urge readers to write your legislators and the Governor to express your support for effective and equitable carbon pricing.

James K. Boyce is professor of economics and Raymond S. Bradley is distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.