Carbon Pricing: Keeping MA a Leader on Climate Action

The following was testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy on behalf of Progressive Massachusetts on June 20, 2017.

Chairman Barrett, Chairman Golden, and members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, I, Jonathan Cohn, Co-Chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts, am pleased to offer this testimony on behalf of Progressive Massachusetts. Progressive Massachusetts is a multi-issue, grassroots, member-based advocacy organization committed to an agenda of shared prosperity, racial and social justice, good governance and strong democracy, and sustainable infrastructure and environmental protection.  

Progressive Massachusetts would like to go on the record IN SUPPORT of bills H.1726 and S.1821.

As a coastal state, Massachusetts is especially vulnerable to climate change. To put it bluntly, we cannot achieve shared prosperity under water.

Nine years ago, the Global Warming Solutions Act was signed into law, committing the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below the 1990 baseline in 2020 and by at least 80% in 2050. However, as advocates have often pointed out, and the Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year, Massachusetts is not on track to meet its own goals.

After President Trump moved to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, elected officials from both parties in Massachusetts condemned this misguided move and said that Massachusetts would continue to push forward with climate mitigation. But we need more than just rhetoric. We need concrete policies that enable us to realize and build upon our current commitments.

The carbon pricing bills under consideration—H. 1726 and S. 1821—are such policies. A 2014 study prepared for the Department of  Energy Resources found putting a price on carbon in a scheme akin to that of these bills “would reduce state GHG emissions to a larger degree than most other Massachusetts programs that currently operate for this purpose.” Indeed, it could reduce economy-wide emissions by 5-10%, with much of this reduction coming from the transportation sector, which is the largest source of emissions in Massachusetts.

The environmental benefits of such a pricing scheme are not limited to climate mitigation. The reduction in air pollution resulting from the price incentive could save over 300 lives over the next twenty years.

We are pleased that both H.1726 and S.1821 take important steps to counteract any potential regressive economic effects of a carbon pricing scheme, making sure that low-income residents are not bearing the burden of climate mitigation. And we specifically commend H.1726 for setting aside 20% of collected funds for a new Green Infrastructure Fund that would facilitate the decarbonization of the transportation sector and increase investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate resilience. Changing price incentives is just the first step in the critical task of mitigating climate change.

The situation at the federal level for climate policy ambitious enough to meet the challenges before us is grim. It has thus become increasingly important for states like Massachusetts to redouble their commitments. We must do so to avoid regress, and we must do so to provide models for national policies as our state so often has.

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