As a coastal state, Rhode Island could soon see the devastating effects of climate change.
In response, some Rhode Island lawmakers recognize their state’s imminent danger and have introduced a proposal to tax carbon polluters.
The proposed bill, referred to as Energize Rhode Island, would create a fund for clean energy and jobs with some of the revenue from the tax. This fund would be invested in renewable energy and programs to help citizens and businesses become more energy efficient.
The bill’s proponents say that through these programs, Energize Rhode Island will add over 1,000 jobs in the first several years and 4,000 jobs by the year 2040.
In addition to creating jobs, the bill is designed to strengthen the local economy by keeping money in the region.
Rhode Island spends over three billion dollars a year on fossil fuels, mainly from out of the state. Discouraging the use of fossil fuels sourced out of the state would keep more money in local businesses.
The bill also prevents the cost of the tax from being a burden on residents by sending rebates to citizens and businesses.
Fourty percent of the fund collected from the tax would go directly back to households in the form of rebates, and another 30 percent would be returned to employers.
Energize Rhode Island aims for participation in the entire Northeastern region, and stipulates that Massachusetts must enact a comparable policy before the bill can go into effect.
Shiba Kar, assistant professor of natural resource planning and policy and a sustainable energy specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, feels that a regional approach for Rhode Island is the most practical since it is interdependent on neighboring states. He feels that if regional efforts are successful, the next step would be on a national level.
Although there is not a similar proposal in Wisconsin, there are local efforts for a nationwide carbon tax.
One organization with this aim is Citizens’ Climate lobby, which focuses on lobbying for climate change legislation.
Dan Dieterich is the Group Leader for the Stevens Point Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby as well as the Wisconsin Coordinator for the group.
Dieterich said Citizens’ Climate Lobby is focused on passing a Carbon Fee and Dividend Policy through congress. Like the Energize Rhode Island Bill, Carbon Fee and Dividend aims to tax carbon polluters but on a national rather than state level.
Dieterich believes that it is important to pass a carbon tax at a national level because it would provide an incentive for other countries to do likewise since goods from countries without comparable carbon policies would be taxed upon entry to the United States.
Kar feels that with a financial mechanism like a carbon tax “we are paving the way to move to more alternative energy options,” by providing the funding for switching gradually from fossil fuels.
Dieterich says he is involved because climate change is, “not only an environmental, social, economic, but moral issue.”
He says this is because climate change hurts the most vulnerable who, “are not the ones responsible for the problem, they are the ones getting clobbered with it.”
Dieterich says that “if we keep doing what we are doing we will live in infamy.”
He quoted Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, who said, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last to be able to do something about it.”
The proposed carbon tax brings hope that climate change can be solved while strengthening the economy, proving that having both a healthy environment and economy is possible.