HARTFORD, CT — It’s the first time Connecticut lawmakers are being asked to consider a carbon tax, but they’re not alone.
State lawmakers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire are looking at similar proposals to reduce carbon emissions.
“It’s a first step for many of us,” Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said. “This is something that possibly could wind up being a regional initiative.”
The legislation would propose a fee of $15 a ton on carbon pollution that would be levied on petroleum products such as coal, oil, natural gas, propane or any other petroleum products. It would also be levied on electricity generators that use fossil fuels.
The state would then redistribute the tax to residents and businesses, who according to proponents, would be inspired to lower their consumption as a result.
Because a portion of the tax would be returned to homeowners and businesses, Steinberg said, those rebates would act as a protection to what’s been a temptation of lawmakers to sweep these types of accounts to close budget deficits.
Connecticut’s legislation also includes a trigger which would require Massachusetts and Rhode Island to join us, Steinberg said.
At a press conference outside the House chamber, Jeff Mauk, executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, said lawmakers are introducing legislation to study carbon pricing in a number of states.
“Signals being sent from Washington D.C. make it clear that it is up to the states to take the lead on climate action,” Mauk said.
Rhode Island currently has a very similar proposal.
“It truly is a win-win,” Rep. Aaron Regunberg of Rhode Island said.
He said the reality is that New England is at the end of the supply chain and that’s not going to change any time soon without a carbon tax.
If you want to transition to more local energy generation, “this is the most ambitious and effective way to make that transition,” Regunberg told the Environment Committee Monday.
Most of the money from Connecticut’s carbon tax will be redistributed back to consumers. At least 25 percent will go to low-income residents to improve energy efficiency and 40 percent would be redistributed as direct dividends to Connecticut residents and 30 percent to Connecticut businesses.
Washington State Sen. Kevin Ranker said the regional conversation in New England will “support a national conversation.”
A national conversation that’s not likely to happen under a Trump administration. Last week, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, said during his confirmation hearing that he rejected the established science of climate change.
“We’ve seen all the signs from Washington D.C. that this is not likely to be a national push,” Ranker said Monday.
New England lawmakers who support the proposal said their regional support will encourage the middle of the country to join them.
Ranker said there’s clearly an economic argument to be made.
“On the west coast for instance, California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia make up the fifth largest economic driver in the world, so if that region does something it will move an economic argument for carbon pricing,” Ranker said. “That will become the norm.”
He said the businesses will have to come along to meet those state standards, if all the states in a region are participating.
“You can fight climate change in a market oriented way so as to not hurt consumers,” Massachusetts State Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, said.
He said they are working on a way of getting consumers back rebates that would account for whether they live in rural communities and have different consumption needs than those who live in an apartment in Boston.
The proposal was widely opposed by fuel companies.
“There are many reasons that this proposed tax will cause economic harm to Connecticut, but if for no other reason, than the fact that low income residents who already spend a higher portion of their household budget on energy and gasoline,” Gregory Stafstrom, president of Spring Brook Ice & Fuel Service in New Britain, said.
However, at least one company, NRG, supported the legislation.
Dan Hendrick, director of external affairs from NRG, said as one of the largest generators in the state, mostly with fossil fuel resources, “we believe if the state wants to move forward with reducing carbon that this strategy is the right way forward.”
He said it’s scope includes all fossil fuels, including gasoline and diesel.
“Carbon, is carbon, is carbon, no matter where the resource comes from,” Hendrick said.
He said because it’s not centered on any single resource or technology it’s more likely to withstand a legal challenge because “it doesn’t distort the wholesale markets.”