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Science & Environment

Climate Bills Could Put a Price on Massachusetts Carbon Emissions

Hundreds of climate activists packed a joint legislative committee hearing Tuesday at the Statehouse for two climate bills that could put a price on carbon emissions.

One of the bills, filed by Rep. Jennifer Benson, a Democrat from Lunenburg, would allow the state to collect fees from those who emit carbon from transportation and home heating.

If passed in its current form, the Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions (H. 2810), would charge fossil fuel importers a fee for carbon burned in transportation or home heating — up to $20 per metric ton in the first year. The cost would increase by $5 per year until 2025, when the state would assess whether it’s meeting emissions goals. If not, the legislation calls for the carbon price to rise by an additional $5 per metric ton.

“A carbon tax is the most efficient way to get at reducing carbon emissions,” said Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat representing Falmouth, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. “Taxes change people’s behavior. And we radically need to change people’s behavior around emitting carbon, and if we don’t we’re going to continue to pollute [the] planet.”
To ease the cost impact, the state would return as much as 70 percent of the revenue to employers and households in the form of rebates, and use the other 30 percent to fund green energy and infrastructure projects.

State Sen. Mike Barrett, a Democrat from Lexington, filed a similar bill (S.1924): An Act to Combat Climate Change, which the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy is also considering.

These bills represent the legislative carbon pricing effort, while Gov. Charlie Baker continues to push for a regional carbon pricing effort, known as the Transportation Climate Initiative.

Laura Gazzano, a retired teacher and activist from Truro, said carbon pricing efforts could be important in helping stave off the worst effects of climate change.

“We see so many marks of climate change on the Cape, and it’s time for us to do something about it,” she said.  “All the science has said carbon pricing is a good place to start.”

Nearly a dozen activists at the hearing identified themselves as Cape locals, hailing from Sandwich to Truro.

The few critics who attended the hearing voiced worries about the cost impact on homes and businesses, but Fernandes said the legislation could generate enough revenue to provide a boost for the Cape and Islands.

“You have—opening up on the Vineyard—a hub for offshore wind energy,” Fernandes said. “That will only grow in the coming years and a carbon tax will help spur that industry… which will grow jobs and grow our economy.”

Committee members will now consider the testimony of economists, doctors and activists, before deciding whether—and how—to report these carbon pricing bills out to the full Legislature.