Amherst supports carbon pollution fee

Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2017

Imposing a carbon pollution fee on fossil fuels imported to Massachusetts is a way to encourage people to reduce consumption of oil and gas by purchasing automobiles that are more fuel efficient and adjusting the thermostats in their homes and offices.

Returning the money captured from this fee to residents in the form of a dividend ensures that this fee is not a new tax that will increase the cost of living in the state.

On Monday, Amherst became the latest community to support a resolution from Climate Action Now calling for a carbon pollution fee and rebate.

The concept, said Mary Jo Maffei, chairwoman of Climate Action Now’s Carbon Pollution Fee and Rebate Group, is to hasten the conversion of power sources to solar, wind and renewable energy, to help low-income people vulnerable to climate change and to create more jobs, in particular in the clean energy sector.

“It’s the most important way, the most important tool, in our arsenal to fight climate disruption,” Maffei said.

For State Rep. Solomon Goldstein Rose, D-Amherst, who also represents Pelham and Precinct 1 in Granby, support from Amherst, as well as several other towns that include Shutesbury, Plainfield and Ashfield, could be the difference in getting such legislation through the state Legislature and strengthening the green economy. 

“It’s helpful to have towns endorsing state polcies,” said Goldstein-Rose, who was present at Amherst Town Meeting as it unanimously supported the measure. “State representatives might start to notice, and it also shows that it has grassroots support.”

But so far no state has implemented direct carbon pricing, which in Massachusetts would affect between $20 billion and $25 billion worth of imports, Goldstein-Rose said. 

The bills that have been filed are most similar to a law in place in British Columbia, Canada.

“It has to be done by smart legislators who understand that it’s good for the economy,” Goldstein-Rose said.

Still, legislators also have to be aware and explain that such a program will raise the price of energy for consumers. “The whole point is to increase the cost of fossil-fuel energy,” Goldstein-Rose said.

DeAnne Riddle, a member of the Carbon Pollution Fee and Rebate Group, said a market-based approach is needed as cities and towns become vulnerable from rising seas, and that Massachusetts has to lead the nation in the right direction.

While Goldstein-Rose has embedded a carbon pricing measure in a comprehensive bill, with five sections aimed at improving the green economy, stand-alone bills are also focused on the measure, which he argues are seeing momentum.

The one farther along, known as An Act Combating Climate Change, filed by Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, has gained some traction with several cosponsors.

Goldstein-Rose said he is confident that it could pass the Senate because it is revenue neutral in that 100 percent of the fee goes back to residents and businesses, with emphasis on rural residents who may have to travel farther to their jobs.

In the House, Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, has filed An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Create Jobs.

This, though, is not revenue neutral, as 20 percent would be dedicated to enhancing a green infrastructure  fund. But it adjusts the dividend so low income people get more in return.

Maffei said she hopes any bill can be effective and efficient to move the economy to more sustainable energy sources. 

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com