States Lead on Carbon Pricing Amidst Federal Uncertainty

By Gwen Child

The collision of the Donald Trump administration’s energy agenda with dire climate change predictions has left many of us in shock. As federal climate policy hangs in the balance, people are looking for other routes to enact the changes that scientists say we need to make in order to preserve a livable planet.

Effective and flexible solutions are crucial at this moment in history, and many are looking to individual states to take the charge on climate action.

One of the most powerful tools we hold is a market-based approach in which economic forces regulate pollution once a price has been set. Carbon pricing stands out in that it elegantly covers the entire economy, incentivizing energy-efficiency and clean-energy development while holding big polluters accountable for the damage they do.

States across the nation recognize the potential of such policies, and some already have campaigns underway to put a fee on carbon. Participating groups hail from all areas and don’t fit into one specific political framework. They present a number of approaches to accomplishing a similar goal: Some bills designed to return 100 percent of the revenue collected to households and businesses, while others invest the revenue in clean-technology projects.

This diversity proves that putting a price on carbon is an efficient, versatile and viable way to cut emissions.

The Boston-based nonprofit Climate XChange is working to unify these groups dedicated to carbon pricing and build a community oriented around this common goal. Armed with an expert economist on staff and four years of experience working to pass such bills through the Massachusetts legislature, the organization set out to help other states start campaigns of their own.

This February, the group announced the launch of their newest project, the State Carbon Pricing Network. The network, made up of 17 states, includes participants from national organizations, states with active campaigns, and those considering such campaigns. Together, the states can demonstrate the benefits of strong climate legislation at the local level, thereby enabling potential action in other states and eventually nationwide.

The goal is to catalyze progress by encouraging collaboration and connecting existing campaigns undergoing common challenges. New campaigns are welcomed, and communication is facilitated via regular calls, meetings and distribution of information. Connection to necessary resources is pivotal, with Climate XChange providing support by assisting with bill drafting and economic studies.

Filled with enthusiasm during a time when much of the country has been left hopeless on climate, carbon-pricing campaigns in the State Carbon Pricing Network are quickly growing. Climate XChange conducts economic analysis research that helped inform two carbon-pricing bills in Massachusetts this year. These bills obtained an immense amount of initial support, with more than a third of state lawmakers signing on to co-sponsor.

Washington state held the nation’s first vote on a carbon fee during the last election season, and three similar bills have been introduced this session. Gov. Jay Inslee also included a price on carbon in his proposed budget for 2017-2019.

In Washington, D.C., and Vermont, coalitions of invested stakeholders have plans to introduce carbon-pricing bills. Energize Rhode Island Coalition is preparing for similar action and plans to bring its “message of job creation, economic growth and climate benefits to residents through education and outreach,” said Mary Jane Sorrentino, group leader for the Rhode Island chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. The group, like many others, understands the severity of climate change impacts and that action can be economically beneficial.

“With the lack of sensible policy at the federal level, it must happen at the state and regional one,” Sorrentio said. “Rhode Island spends $3.1 billion annually on out-of-state fossil fuels. If our state enacts carbon pricing, we can grow our economy and take charge of our energy future.” 

Oregon, Arkansas and New York are also looking to gain momentum for their campaigns.

The State Carbon Pricing Network will help lay the groundwork for these emerging endeavors, and strengthen existing ones.

Putting a fee on carbon is the next necessary step to cutting our emissions and tackling climate change. Successful carbon pricing legislation on the state level has the potential to light a spark across the nation, bringing us closer to a clean energy future.

To join upcoming calls on carbon pricing across the country, sign up here: Put a Price on Carbon in My State!

Gwen is the Communications Fellow at Climate XChange and graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in Community and International Development. Her passion for environmental protection began during a semester abroad in high school at the Island School. It continued into her gap year when she worked at the Natural Resource Defense Council as a policy analyst intern and throughout college with work at the Central for Rural studies in VT.

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