Bill Proposes Taxing All Fossil Fuels that Enter R.I.

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A bill in the General Assembly offers a radical approach to addressing climate change.

The Carbon Pricing and Economic Development Act places a carbon tax on all fossil fuels — oil, natural gas, gasoline and coal — that enter Rhode Island. The tax — a $15-per-ton fee on carbon dioxide emissions — would feed into a state-run fund that would help finance solar and wind projects, green-energy research and transportation initiatives.

The fund would also issue an annual “clean energy” check to state residents and business owners. The payment would cover the expected increase in energy costs created by the tax.

The legislation was produced by Brown University student Solomon Goldstein-Rose and J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology at Brown. Both are a part of the Rhode Island Carbon Pricing Coalition, a group that includes students, climate activists and lawmakers.

Goldstein-Rose helped establish the Energize Rhode Island initiative through Brown University. The group funded a study that looks at the impact of a carbon tax on jobs, emissions and the economy. The report is expected in early April.

The province of British Columbia, Canada, instituted a carbon tax in 2008. Reports show that the fee on fossil fuels has reduced taxes, helped the economy and lowered carbon emissions.

Carbon pricing, Goldstein-Rose believes, is the most efficient approach to address the failure of a market-based economy to address greenhouse-gas emissions.

“It shows that we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment,” he said during a recent meeting in Providence. “It is important we pay the actual price of carbon now so we don’t have to pay the full price of global warming later.”

The legislation proposes that the state Office of Energy Resources (OER) oversee the carbon-pricing system and the renewable-energy fund. The OER told ecoRI News it wasn’t involved with the drafting of the legislation and was reviewing it.

A portion of the carbon tax would also pay into Gov. Gina Raimondo’s green bank program. The financial institution, called an infrastructure bank, would finance projects for energy efficiency, renewable energy, stormwater management and wastewater control.

Raimondo hasn’t said if she supports a carbon tax. But she said private banks would provide much of the funding for the infrastructure bank. The banks provide loans that are repaid by electricity customers through their savings on energy costs.

A hearing on the carbon-tax bill is expected in late April. Until then, the Carbon Pricing Coalition plans to campaign for the legislation through educational events and meetings with the media, lawmakers and the public.