Carbon Pricing is coming to Washington D.C. — here’s what you need to know

Councilwoman Mary Cheh at a march in DC in early 2017 (Photo: Laurie Shaull / Wikimedia Commons)

Adapted from original campaign blogpost by Courtney Dyson with permission from Put a Price On It DC.

On June 7th, Climate XChange will be discussing the state of the carbon pricing in DC with Campaign Director Camila Thorndike. You can register for the webinar here. For a primer and an update on Put a Price On It DC, read on.

State governments across the country are getting in on the fight against climate change. The tool of choice: a price on carbon. So far, 11 states have introduced carbon pricing bills and resolutions this session alone, but our nation’s capital is not among them. And while our federal government has certainly fallen behind on climate change mitigation, we’re speaking about local government along the Potomac. As the summer begins, the residents of our nation’s capital have decided to officially enter the fray.

In 2013, the District identified aggressive reduction targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use. This includes cutting both GHG emissions and total energy use in half by 2032 (relative to 2006 and 2012 levels, respectively), as well as a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 50%. By 2050, the District aims to cut GHG emissions by 80% relative to 2006 levels.

In 2015, the founders of Put a Price On It recognized the potential of a carbon price to hold polluters accountable and progressively return tangible benefits back to voters. They researched the various elements that go into the policy and decided to pursue an “inclusive, transparent, and equitable” campaign to bring a carbon price to the District.

Over the past two years this vision has turned into an impressive coalition comprising 70 “environmental and justice advocacy organizations, faith groups, unions, consumer advocacy organizations, D.C. businesses” who are all in full support of pricing carbon in D.C.

All this work has led up to an announcement expected later this afternoon. On June 5th, 2018, District Councilwoman Mary Cheh intends to introduce the bill crafted by the Put a Price On It campaign. However, two actions preceding this date have created a slightly convoluted environmental policy landscape in the district.

First, during the first week of May, the D.C. Council introduced a bill that would increase the District’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for clean electricity to 100% by 2050. The bill was put together without the consultation of the leading environmental and clean-energy advocates in the District. Spearheaded by Chairman Phil Mendelson, the bill builds off of the existing RPS mandate of 50% by 2032. While extending the RPS does not directly impede Cheh and the Coalition’s carbon pricing legislation, it may inadvertently steer conversations in D.C. away from the immediate, substantial, and economy-wide actions needed to achieve its 2032 climate and energy goals.

Source: Clean Energy DC Summary Report, page 6

Second, on May 18th, Councilwoman Cheh presented a modified proposal for a carbon price in DC. The language has not been officially introduced to the council at this time. Put a Price On It applauded the effort as “the first time any local elected official [in DC] has ever put forward such a plan to hold polluter’s accountable,” but cautioned that her proposal “must be strengthened before being introduced and passed into law.”

Below, we analyze the three policies. But first, what’s next for the coalition?

On June 5th, the coalition will host a press conference urging Councilwoman Cheh to continue making progress on a fair and equitable carbon price and pushing for the coalition proposal to be introduced.
We will be examining the aftermath of June 5th and the state of the coalition bill with Campaign Director Camila Thorndike two days after the event on June 7th. You can register here.
If you are a resident of Washington DC, you can send a message to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson expressing your support for a strong and fair carbon price today.
Read on for more details comparing the coalition’s proposal with Councilwoman Cheh’s proposal.

At A Glance: Comparison Of Proposals

The Carbon Price

With a fee starting at only $10 per ton of carbon dioxide, Councilwoman Cheh’s proposal falls along the lines of many others being implemented around the globe. The coalition proposal calls for a fee that begins at $20 per ton and increases $10 per year, to eventually reach $150 per ton by 2032.

Economy-wide Coverage

One of the leading differences between the two proposals is that Councilwoman Cheh’s would only place a carbon fee on oil and gas combustion. In place of a carbon fee on the electricity sector, Cheh includes an RPS standard similar to Councilman Mendelson’s proposal. The coalition, however, claims that their proposal will decarbonize the electricity sector decades faster by applying a carbon fee.

Emissions Reductions

—The Put a Price On It campaign’s original proposal is aligned with D.C.’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2032. However, Councilwoman Cheh’s proposal cuts the carbon price in half and lessens its scope, inevitably diminishing emission reductions.
Specifically, The Put A Price On It proposal reduces CO2 emissions from natural gas and oil by 5.75 million tons by 2032 (not including the emissions reductions from electricity), whereas Councilwoman Cheh’s proposal only reduces it by 2.65 million tons by 2038.

In conclusion…
The policy conversation surrounding a carbon price in any jurisdiction is sure to be complicated. In D.C. there are multiple actors pushing competing perspectives in pursuit of similar goals. Ultimately, Mendelson’s RPS bill will provide no short-term action. And while Cheh’s draft proposal is to be applauded, the Put a Price On It proposal is most likely to achieve D.C.’s existing 2032 emissions reduction goals.