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EC Rhode Island Director Testifies in Support of Carbon Pricing

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EC Rhode Island Director Brigid Ryan testifies“To be against carbon pricing is to be against progress in energy development,” declared EC Rhode Island Director Brigid Ryan in March 10 testimony before the Rhode Island House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Ryan chairs the Energize Rhode Island coalition of associations, businesses and nonprofit organizations, including EC Rhode Island, formed to promote a carbon pricing policy in the state.

Speaking in support of the Clean Energy Investment and Carbon Pricing Act (H-7325), Ryan did not mince words. She said to oppose such a policy is not only “to be against the science that tells us we can no longer follow this path,” it is “to be against reality.”

Ryan refuted the idea that carbon pricing is bad for business. “Energize Rhode Island will not put natural gas-fired plants out of business,” she said. “It will not, in one brush stroke, completely change our power distribution system.” She said that with or without carbon pricing, “our energy distribution system will change” – but carbon pricing embraces that change in a way that is economically responsible, environmentally sound and economically beneficial.

Bill sponsor Rep. Aaron Regunberg said that as a coastal state, Rhode Island is already experiencing the sea-level rise and greater frequency of severe flooding and other extreme weather events that result from climate change. He said carbon pricing can help address those vulnerabilities by reducing “reliance on dirty fossil fuels.”

Help for Low-Income Communities

Rep. Aaron Regunberg

Advocates believe carbon pricing will go far in reducing polluting emissions that contribute to climate change, make Rhode Island – an energy-importing state – vulnerable to supply and price fluctuations and create health and other problems, particularly for low-income residents.

As Energize Rhode Island’s H-7325 Legislative Prospectus states, “Pollution exacerbates asthma and respiratory issues, extreme weather events and risks of airborne diseases, all of which are often worst in lower income or urban areas.”

The state General Assembly’s press release, issued when Regunberg introduced the bill in January, backs that up. It quotes Douglas Hall, director of economic and fiscal policy at the Economic Progress Institute, as stating, “While issues of climate change pose huge threats to all of us, it’s clear that lower-income families have been paying the highest price to date for an economy so heavily reliant on carbon-based energy sources” – for example “in the higher incidences of childhood asthma in our inner cities.”

In addressing these inequities, H-7325 would put Rhode Island among the first states to employ a market-based approach for limiting harmful emissions. The bill would impose fees on greenhouse gas emissions, starting at $15 per ton and increasing by $5 per year, to be paid by companies that sell fossil fuels in the state. Twenty-five percent of the fees would be used to incentivize energy efficiency and clean energy.

The slow but steady fee increase would build up a new Clean Energy and Jobs Fund, whose proceeds are to be invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The fund would also provide a per capita or per employee rebate to every Rhode Island family and business. Hall explained that the rebates would protect lower-income families from the higher prices expected to occur when a portion of the carbon tax is passed on to consumers.

Jobs, Economic Growth

According to Energize Rhode Island, pricing carbon and incentivizing clean energy will also create jobs – Rhode Island already has 10,000 jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency and expects another 1,600 jobs to be created in the first year after implementation.

H-7325 alone is expected to add more than 1,000 jobs in the first two years, mostly in construction but also in health care, food, retail and other fields. By 2040, the policy is expected to add 4,000 jobs.

Revenues from the carbon price are expected to start at $140 million per year, increasing yearly. REMI (Regional Economic Models, Inc.) projects that Rhode Island’s gross state product will increase $150 to $250 million by 2040 as Rhode Islanders invest less in out-of-state fuel imports and more in the local economy. In addition, increased wellbeing and job availability are expected to attract up to 3,000 new state residents by 2040.

More than 40 of the Rhode Island House of Representatives’ 75 members are co-sponsors of H-7325. Energize Rhode Island is working to have a companion bill introduced in the state Senate.

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