“For anyone who is a scientist or a parent, this moment in history is particularly scary,” said Justin Boyan, a father, Providence resident, former NASA research scientist and Senior Engineer at Google. “If you’re a scientist you understand the physics of the huge, global climate disaster which is just starting to unfold. And if you are a parent, you look everyday into the eyes off the children who will bear the brunt of that disaster.”
Boyan was speaking at State House event announcing the introduction of new carbon pricing legislation. Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) with the support of a large number of environmental and climate activists, announced the Energize Rhode Island: Economic and Climate Resilience Act of 2018, legislation designed “to charge fossil fuel sellers for the carbon pollution their products cause, and invest the money in the state’s clean energy and green business sector as well as rebates sent directly to energy consumers.”
If passed, the legislation will “provide incentives for energy users to reduce their reliance on carbon-emitting fuels and encourage the development of cleaner renewable energy projects that keep Rhode Islanders’ dollars in the state and create jobs locally.”
A new Clean Energy and Jobs Fund will be established to invest in renewables and efficiency, financed by a fee of $15 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. The legislation is designed to go into effect only Massachusetts and one other state in the region pass similar bills.
The legislation establishes that 28 percent of the fees collected would be used for climate resilience, energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy programs; 30 percent would be used to provide direct dividends to employers in the state per full-time employee; and 40 percent would be used to provide direct dividends for every single state resident. Employees and residents would receive their funds via tax credits, or checks for those not required to file taxes.
“We need to advance an economy-wide price on carbon pollution in Rhode Island now. By returning rebates to residents and businesses, and creating the Energize RI Fund, we will be investing in the clean energy economy and moving our state away from dirty sources of energy. Having the support of eight other states in the region sends a clear signal that we have now have regional strength in the shared goal of bold action on climate. We don’t have a moment to lose,” said Senator Calkin.
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“The need for this legislation has never been more critical,” said Representative Regunberg. “2017 was the worst natural disaster year in our history, and the devastating impacts of climate change are already being felt here in Rhode Island. With a federal administration hell-bent on ignoring the problem, ambitious climate action can only come from the states, and that’s why now is the time to create a regional carbon pricing strategy that will put thousands of Rhode Islanders to work bringing renewable energy and efficiency to all our communities.”
An economic impact study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) estimated that the legislation would create a net growth of 1,000 to 2,000 new jobs in just the first two years of the program. It also noted that Rhode Island spends more than $3.1 billion annually on fossil fuels, nearly all of which flows out of the state. Incentivizing Rhode Islanders to switch from out-of-state fossil fuel sources to local renewables and efficiency will help keep more of that money in Rhode Island, and — according to the study — will also help protect the state from the volatile market swings that often affect these fuel prices.
“I personally used to be in favor of cap and trade systems, I think it’s nice on paper,” said Timmons Roberts, Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University, “but it has not been predictable and if people need to make decisions about how much money the need to spend on energy efficiency and renewables they need to know what the price is going to be. So I think [cap and trade] is not enough.”
“So everyone here is talking about why this is a good bill,” said Kevin O’Neill, a Rhode Island business owner who runs the Conference Exchange, a software development company. “You all know there are some very loud voices in the business community talking about why it’s a bad bill… The net impact of this bill on residences and businesses will be very small and would be more often positive than negative.” O’Neill expects that his company will come out ahead once this bill goes into effect.
According to Energize RI, a coalition of community groups established to advocate for the bill, “the program will not increase energy costs for the average Rhode Island family or businesses, and in fact, will reduce costs for all Rhode Islanders in the long term. In the short term, the average Rhode Island household receives a net gain from the rebate, and even those households whose incomes are higher would have an average net cost of only $25 per year.”
Also announced at the press conference was the formation of the Carbon Costs Coalition, a multi-state coalition of state legislators from nine states, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington with the goal of “accurately accounting for the cost of carbon pollution and committed to the passage of carbon pricing as a regional initiative.”
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