Majority Support Apparent in Both Branches
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 13, 2020.....Faith leaders, youth advocates, municipal officials and business groups are among those expected to appear at a State House hearing Tuesday in support of carbon pricing legislation.
One of the pricing plans that the Telecomm
unications, Utilities and Energy Committee is set to take up had the potential of hitting a speed bump this month when its main sponsor, Jennifer Benson, resigned her House seat for a post with the Alliance for Business Leadership. Instead, supporters of her proposal are sounding an optimistic note as they point to a new lead legislative advocate and growing momentum behind the issue.
Rep. Bill Driscoll, a Milton Democrat, took over the bill from Benson.
Driscoll worked in disaster response for 11 years before his election to the House in 2016. He said he's seen the intensity of storms increase, "and part of it's directly attributable to climate change."
"You have to make changes in terms of how we're all living, how we're all working as relates to climate change," Driscoll, one of the first lawmakers to sign on to Benson's bill, told the News Service. "Rep. Benson crafted a revenue-positive bill for the commonwealth that incentivizes people to change behaviors, to lead cleaner lifestyles, and for us to invest in renewable energy, green infrastructure projects. So that's what really drew me to it, what I think is unique about it, and what I think is also achievable in terms of the way that she structured it."
The bill (H 2810) calls for 70 percent of the money generated by putting a price on carbon to be delivered back to households and employers through rebates, and 30 percent -- an estimated $400 million to $600 million a year -- to go into a Green Infrastructure Fund to support clean transportation, climate resilience and renewable energy projects. The carbon pollution charge would start at $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions then increase by $5 annually until it reaches $40 per ton.
Ninety-five members of the 160-seat House have signed on to the Benson/Driscoll bill. Twenty-five members of the 40-seat Senate are cosponsoring a different carbon pricing bill (S 1924) offered by Sen. Michael Barrett, who co-chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. Both bills are on the agenda for Tuesday's 1 p.m. hearing.
The bills would apply to transportation and buildings, and would likely increase costs in both sectors.
Last year, the Senate passed a sweeping clean energy bill that included a carbon-pricing system among its components, and the House countered with four separate energy bills. The compromise the two branches ultimately reached and passed into law did not include carbon-pricing language.
Clean Water Action New England Director Cindy Luppi said she's excited to see a majority of House lawmakers backing a carbon pricing bill this term.
"We really want to make sure that there are House-driven solutions as well as Senate solutions so that we avoid the sort of logjam of last session where the Senate passed something and then there wasn't very much that was able to be agreed on, so we're really excited that the House has exciting ideas on the table with a lot of discussion in momentum," Luppi said.
She attributed some of the growing support behind Benson's bill to its "really thoughtful consideration of the needs of low- and moderate-income families."
"The rebates are set up in a really thoughtful way, and there's a guarantee that at least 40 percent of the revenue that's generated would be spent in low-income communities that are typically the last to get access to the green economy and are really underrepresented in terms of transit," Luppi said.
The carbon pricing hearing arrives as the House is planning to embark on a transportation revenue debate some time this month, and as Gov. Charlie Baker is pursuing a compact with other states to establish a regional cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing carbon emissions from vehicles.
"The transportation debate is looming, those conversations are happening, and so this is another alternative that could be in the mix if folks want it to be," Driscoll said.
Luppi said the Benson bill is "specifically formatted to be compatible with" the regional Transportation Climate Initiative, which is still taking shape.
"They are solutions that could work well together," she said.
Senate President Karen Spilka has said she plans to bring climate legislation to the floor early this year.