The importance of state legislative races is often lost in the hype surrounding national midterm elections. Even when focused on, it can be hard to determine the policies that play a defining role in legislative elections at the state level. As a policy, carbon pricing has largely overcome this apathy, emerging as a winning issue among those running in competitive and open districts across Massachusetts today.
In a year where Democrats were expected to increase control in the state legislature, these first-year lawmakers will shape the direction of climate policy for at least the next decade.
Near universal consensus formed among these newcomers around the need for state leadership on climate policy, a theme even incumbents tapped into. We talked to a number of these victorious Representatives and Senators about why they supported carbon pricing during the campaign, and their support for the policy in the net session.
Representative-elect Michelle Ciccolo (D-15th Middlesex) had this to say, “I believe every decision we make, must be viewed through the lens of sustainability. The earth is heating up and we have to take action now even when it costs us more and is politically difficult. I support developing a carbon fee based system that will be applied to heating oil, natural gas, and vehicle gasoline and all carbon fuels at the wholesale level.”
“From urban flooding to coastal seawalls, Massachusetts residents across the Commonwealth are counting on the legislature to faithfully represent their concerns about climate change,” said Representative-elect Nika Elugardo (D-15th Suffolk). She continued, “each year, Massachusetts residents feel the accelerating costs of pollution through the increased incidence of asthma and through extreme weather and rising seas.”
“Right now, Massachusetts spends upwards of $20 billion annually to import fossil fuels. We need to begin creating dis-incentives for that behavior while incentivizing our shift to clean energy,” said Senator-elect Jo Comerford, (D-Hampshire, Franklin, & Worcester district). She continued, “A carbon price can do this while investing into renewable energy infrastructure, green job training programs, and back to local communities that need it most.”
According to economic research from Climate XChange a $40/ton carbon price in Massachusetts would create between 12,000 and 18,000 jobs in the state, and add $600 million to the Gross State Product. Massachusetts currently sends $20 billion out of state to pay energy producers in places such as Texas, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. Economic and job growth result primarily from money staying in the state and being spent by consumers and businesses
The benefits of carbon pricing go beyond just economic benefits. “As a public health professional, I recognize the strong link between a low carbon economy and the health and wellness of Massachusetts residents,” said Representative-elect Tami Gouveia (D-14th Middlesex). She continued, “Carbon pricing is one of the most critical mechanisms to reduce our state’s carbon emissions and ensure the health and well-being of current and future generations.”
A Harvard study published this year revealed close to $2.9 billion in cumulative health benefits between 2017 and 2040 if Massachusetts implemented a statewide carbon price. The study also said that a carbon price would save hundreds of lives as a result of a reduction in pollutants released into the air from burning fossil-fuels.
Carbon pricing is not the silver bullet that will reverse climate change, but it is the best solution yet in meaningfully tackling carbon pollution.
“We’re a state that believes the science, and one that understands that our commonwealth depends on a society-wide response to climate pollution,” said Representative-elect Tommy Vitolo (D-15th Norfolk). He continued, “Carbon pricing in the electric sector has helped push power plant emissions down to levels not seen since the 1970s. Economy-wide carbon pricing could produce similar results for transportation and heating systems.”
Speaking to this, Representative-elect Nika Elugardo said, “Massachusetts should embrace a model of carbon pricing that invests in transportation solutions while ensuring explicit protections for public health and environmental justice, to ensure that all residents truly benefit. Carbon pricing is an important way to curb out-of-control use of fossil fuels, but it still does not account for the full cost of the environmental devastation caused by carbon emissions. We must make it less attractive in the short term to use fossil fuels, and we also must transition to a fully clean economy with more effective standards.”
During the 2017-2018 legislative session, two major carbon pricing bills were introduced in the House and the Senate by Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) and Senator Michael Barrett (D-Lexington), respectively. The Senate unanimously passed an omnibus climate bill that included carbon pollution pricing, but the bill did not advance into law due to hesitancy from House leadership.
Representative-elect Michelle Ciccolo also said, “[Having a carbon price] will encourage carbon use reduction and could provide a fund which would fuel the jobs of tomorrow –– dedicated towards much needed investments in renewable energy and grid modernization. As we move forward to explore this carbon pricing option, we must be mindful to build in protections for low and moderate income families and regional balance so as not to create an unfair system.”
The momentum carbon pricing gained last session, combined with the energy surrounding the policy during the past legislative campaign season, creates strong potential for action in the Statehouse this session on the issue.
According to Representative Michelle DuBois (D-10th Plymouth), who won a competitive re-election campaign, “The momentum we built during this election is going to fundamentally change how we approach the current climate crisis. This year’s election proves that carbon pricing is not only something that Massachusetts needs, but something voters want.”