Money Secured for Carbon Tax Study Two Years Later

Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Local environmental groups have spent the past several years seeking a fee on fossil fuels to address climate change. A long-promised study will now be conducted to determine the idea’s feasibility.

Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), announced April 24 that the agency has secured $250,000 to fund a carbon-fee study by an outside research group.

A request for proposal will be issued this spring in hopes that the study is completed when the General Assembly commences its 2020 session in January.

The research project was authorized by the Senate (S108) in 2017, but to the frustration of many environmentalists, funding was never secured. Some accused Gov. Gina Raimondo of stalling the funding because of her lukewarm support for a Rhode Island carbon-tax program and opposition from chambers of commerce and other business groups.

Raimondo instead prefers a national or regional carbon-fee program, similar to the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which assesses a fee on excessive gas emissions from power plants.

The report may also align with the evolving 12-state Transportation & Climate Initiative. Coit suggested that legislation could be introduced next year to address the carbon-fee program and a program to reduce vehicle emissions.

The $250,000 needed to fund the study was issued from the $4.1 million settlement the Rhode Island attorney general received from the Volkswagen emissions scandal. The study will be coordinated with the Office of Energy Resources and the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4).

Coit made the announcement during a meeting of the EC4’s Science & Technical Advisory Board. Attendees at the meeting, some of whom have been urging funding for the study, were pleased with the announcement but wanted to see more done to address climate emissions and fewer studies.

In recent years, legislation to enact a carbon-fee program has been organized through the Energize Rhode Island coalition of environmental groups.

“We’re pleased to see the carbon pricing study move forward,” Energize RI said in a prepared statement. “Over the past two years, we have expressed our support and readiness to help the state meet its goals in carrying out a high-quality study that answers questions about the impacts of carbon pricing on our economy and environment.”

Energize RI believes the legislation should move forward this year so that a carbon-fee program could be ready to launch once the study in completed.

The latest bills (H5869 and S662) creates a system that taxes all petroleum products entering the state at the point of sale. A fee of $15 is charged for each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted from the fossil fuel. The tax increases annually and caps at $50 per metric ton. Seventy percent of the money collected would be paid as dividends to state residents and employers. The remainder would pay for climate resilience, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate adaptation projects. The legislation only takes effect if Massachusetts and another state in the region approve similar programs.

Various types of carbon taxes have been adopted around the world. British Columbia has the most enduring, passing a program in 2008. States such as Washington have rejected referendums to enact carbon-pricing programs.

“A form of carbon pricing is already working for the Northeast: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a price on carbon emissions from electricity, has helped Rhode Island become a leader in energy efficiency and clean electricity,” said Green Energy Consumers Alliance, a reseller of renewable energy and advocate for environmental energy policies. “But we need to be doing much more, especially when it comes to emissions from transportation and heating.”