New England states have considered imposing economywide carbon fees before, but this year's efforts have taken on a sense of urgency with an administration in Washington that is rolling back policies to control power-sector greenhouse gas emissions.
The states already attack greenhouse gases as members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program for buying and selling pollution credits aimed at ratcheting down emissions across New England and in New York, Delaware and Maryland.
Renewed legislative efforts recognize significant strides in cutting the region's power plant emissions. "But we can do more," said Mark Kresowik, eastern region deputy director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.
Massachusetts and Connecticut consume 80 percent of the electricity in New England and are taking a leadership role in expanding the push for further cuts.
"The terrible situation in D.C. is intensifying grass-roots activity around here," said Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Barrett (D), the chief sponsor of a bill that would establish a revenue-neutral fee program on fossil fuels used for heating, cooling and transportation.
Under the plan, the initial $10-per-ton charge on carbon dioxide emissions would be returned to citizens and businesses as rebates.
With more than 60 co-sponsors, Barrett said there is "a great deal of momentum" for a carbon fee. Barrett is chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
He said members of the Massachusetts Senate leave Boston weekly and hold forums for residents in cities and towns. "So far, carbon pricing has been really popping at these evening community open mikes," Barrett said. "I think people here are really freaked out about the environment, but also there's no question they feel an intensified need to act in light of what's going on in Washington."
It could take up to two years to get a measure through the Legislature and to Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Barrett said.
"Maybe two years ago, statewide carbon pricing was a complement to federal global warming policy. But now it's the main event. That is a sea change," he said.
Fits and starts
The idea of a national carbon fee has never gained much traction, although in February the Climate Leadership Council, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, touted the idea at a Washington news conference and in a meeting with White House economic adviser Gary Cohn (Greenwire, Feb. 8).
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Trump administration is exploring a carbon fee as part of a broader tax code overhaul.
Read more at New England States Take Fresh Look at Carbon Fee