Energy Coalition Says Rhode Island Needs A Carbon Tax

Jan 29, 2016

A new bill that puts a tax on carbon has garnered broad support from environmental advocates, businesses, and religious groups. Supporters believe the bill, called Energize Rhode Island, will help reduce carbon emissions and stimulate the economy. 

It’s likely no coincidence that State Rep. Aaron Regunberg from Providence introduced a carbon tax bill on his birthday this week.

“For me, I think that we all have a deep responsibility to think of the young people of Rhode Island – my generation, future generations,” said Regunberg. “So I think we need to be very clear: If we fail to enact ambitious climate action, we are condemning the babies whose birthday is today, who are being born at Women and Infants, to a dangerous future.”

Regunberg said a carbon tax bill would reduce the danger by cutting down greenhouse gas emissions – emissions that are disrupting the climate, changing ecosystems and affecting human health around the world. He said the state has made a commitment to do its part to reduce those emissions.

“We passed Resilient Rhode Island [Act], which says we need to meet certain emission reduction goals and we’re not on track for those yet,” said Regunberg.

Regunburg’s bill proposes a fee of $15 per ton of carbon sold in the state. The idea is to encourage companies to move away from fossil fuels. (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has also introduced a carbon tax bill at the federal level.)

Opponents of carbon taxes argue companies will simply pay the fee and pass it on to consumers by raising prices, “which this bill addresses by providing benefits to individuals and businesses to offset those pass-along costs,” said Douglas Hall, a policy director at the Economic Progress Institute.

Those benefits Hall is talking about would come from the money raised by the carbon tax. If approved, the tax is expected to generate about $140 million in the first year. Most of the money, about 70 percent of it, would be returned to households and businesses in the form of rebates, which Hall said would make up for any cost increase on gasoline or utility bills.

“The Economic Progress Institute, formerly The Poverty Institute, we’re very concerned about the well-being of low- and middle-income families here in Rhode Island,” said Hall, “and that’s what was the nexus for us on this particular issue.”

The rest of the money raised by the carbon tax would go into the state’s newly established Green Infrastructure Bank to invest in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy. Supporters say that would add jobs to those sectors. And they’ve marshaled support from more than 100 small businesses in Rhode Island.

Architect Ken Filarski, chairman of the Rhode Island chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, is pleased other New England states are proposing carbon tax bills, too.

“So it’s not just one state doing it but it’s a collective whole so that the region can become that economic powerhouse,” said Filarski.

Filarski said more businesses are starting to understand that well-designed carbon fees can help their bottom line. He points to major corporations, such as Microsoft, Disney, even Exxon Mobile, that charge themselves a fee for carbon pollution. They use money from the fees to make their companies more energy efficient and sustainable.

Forty state representatives have co-sponsored the Energize Rhode Island Act, but they still expect opposition from other lawmakers and fossil fuel companies.

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