If We Can, We Should – Massachusetts and the new Clean Energy Omnibus Bill

Gari is first-year studying political science with a concentration in comparative politics at Clark University. As a global citizen – having been born in the Philippines, raised in Hong Kong, and finishing high school in New York City – she found her purpose in addressing global issues including climate change. Outside of her work with Our Climate, she is a political staff writer at FreshU.io and a member of Clark's Model United Nations Team and divestment campaign. She is drawn to work on climate change because of its universality and the impact it has on all levels of society, particularly marginalized communities.

Walking from my campus library to the dining hall, I breathe in fumes from my university’s power room. Don’t get me wrong, I love my school. But I know that my university, just like our government, can do better. This is a problem college students all around the country recognize.

On Thursday March 15, non-profit organization Our Climate will organize students from over a dozen campuses in the northeast to participate in a region-wide phone bank to advocate for the new Massachusetts Senate Clean Energy Omnibus bill.

The new bill is a combination of several smaller bills to form one major push for clean energy, which includes introducing carbon pricing. While carbon pricing is not the sole focus of the bill, it is to students like Chris D'Agostino, a senior at Brandeis University, who see carbon pricing as one way to "incentivize renewable energy while disincentivizing fossil fuels. Many climate policies such as renewable energy subsidies only do the former, making carbon pricing unique."

The high importance D’Agostino places on carbon pricing is further shared by Alice Zhang, a first-year at Dartmouth College, who says that “carbon pricing is important because we, as a society, need to find innovative solutions to deal with climate change.”

But what exactly is carbon pricing? Carbon pricing is a policy idea that the majority of environmentalists believe is crucial to countering the effects of climate change is carbon pricing. The goal of carbon pricing is to place a burden onto the institutions and companies most responsible for our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In order for us to prevent climate change, those who can reduce their CO2 emissions must. Carbon pricing doesn’t directly result in companies reducing their emissions. Instead, it quantifies the impact of the carbon emissions in dollars and cents, forcing companies to decide whether or not to continue shouldering the costs of polluting, to minimize polluting, or to transition away from polluting practices altogether.

The two most talked about types of carbon pricing are emissions trading systems (ETS, also known as cap-and-trade) and carbon taxes. ETS puts a cap on the level of greenhouse gas emissions allowed to be produced by certain industries and produces a certain number permits and allowances for everyone in the industry. Those with low emissions typically have more of these permits, and can sell their extra allowances to larger organizations. This not only creates a supply and demand for emissions permits and allowances, but also a competitive market that ensures polluters keep their emissions within the pre-allocated carbon allowances. Carbon taxes, on the other hand, don't set a predefined amount of pollution that is 'okay.' Instead, it places a tax per ton of CO2 produced. It's as simple as this: the more you produce, the more you pay.

While you may think that companies won’t accept more taxes, carbon pricing is so widely accepted that even the heads of Shell Canada, BP, and Exxon Mobil – oil companies that are among the biggest CO2 polluters – have thrown their support behind carbon pricing initiatives. The support also comes from Conservatives and Republicans who can get behind the limited regulation and trust in market-based behaviors. But these oil companies are just institutions. We can – and should – look to our local, state, and hopefully federal government to implement these policies to affect a greater number of organizations.

State governments, like ours here in Massachusetts, are currently working on bills to introduce carbon pricing policies. While it clearly introduces some sort of "market compliance mechanism", it doesn’t address the communities that could face the repercussions from carbon pricing policy like the recent House bill from Representative Jennifer Benson or Senate bill from Senator Barrett did. 

Carbon pricing alone can be regressive and hurt the poor. Individuals from low- and middle-income households, rural communities, and those dependent on energy-based businesses facing out-of-state competition may be put at risk. The aforementioned now scrapped bills addressed these concerns by explicitly outlining what exactly the money earned from carbon fee and dividend system would be used for. The current bill does not.

When phone-banking for the new Clean Energy Omnibus bill, it is vital that students voice not only their support for the bill, but also advocate for such progressive measures. Carbon pricing alone cannot solve the climate crisis, but it is one of the most productive steps forward. And while Massachusetts is one of the most progressive states in the country attempting to address climate change, it is still up to all of us to push for climate positive policies. College students are America's next generation of leaders, and we in Massachusetts are given the opportunity to fight for what we support and believe in to fight for climate change.

To learn how you can collaborate with Our Climate to organize a phone-banking event at your campus, check out our website or contact Sarah Fadem at sarah@ourclimate.us to get set up with a script and link for training.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.