Like other states in the region, Connecticut legislators have been vying for an economy-wide fee on carbon pollution for several years now. These efforts have been spearheaded by state Representative Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), who has introduced carbon pricing legislation for three years in a row.
In both 2017 and 2018, Steinberg proposed a $15 per carbon ton fee that would increase annually by $5. The 2017 legislation (HB 7247) invested 25% of funds in climate resilience, energy efficiency, and renewable energy programs, and rebated the rest back to residents and employers. The bill, however, failed to garner sufficient support.
“In our first year , testimony at the hearing was mostly negative,” Steinberg said to Climate XChange in an interview. “It came from mom-and-pop shops, oiler distributors, and that was hard.”
So, in 2018, he tried something new, and made the legislation (HB 5363) revenue neutral, calling for all generated proceeds to be rebated back to residents and employers in an attempt to reduce regressivity. Nevertheless, he faced stiff opposition at the bill’s hearing, particularly from conservative lawmakers.
“Republicans are just not convinced,” Steinberg said. “It is pretty close to being an issue that is explicitly divided along party lines.”
This session, Steinberg has introduced a concept bill (HB 6436) that signifies a commitment to imposing a fee on pollution in the state, but doesn’t delineate a specific carbon pricing mechanism. After experiencing two years of opposition, the long-time climate champion from Westport is uncertain on how to move forward.
“We’re not sure what type of bill will have the best prospects,” Steinberg said, adding “whether we should go revenue neutral or revenue positive, whether we should give back to consumers, it’s all a part of the negotiation.”
At the same time, three other carbon pricing bills have been introduced in the state legislature: SB 74 by Sen. Alex Bergstein, and HB 6451 and HB 6452 by Rep. Mary Mushinsky. These are also concept bills that call for a transition away from fossil fuels without detailing specific carbon pricing mechanisms.
Connecticut lawmakers are not alone in their efforts. Steinberg is a member of the Carbon Costs Coalition, a group of legislators from 12 states, working to enact carbon pricing with assistance from the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. The coalition includes legislators from all New England states, New York, Maryland, Hawaii, Utah, and Oregon.
“We’ve been consulting with them [NCEL] quite a bit over the past two years on how best to accomplish carbon pricing,” Steinberg said. “But no one’s actually gotten this to pass, which has made us want to change up our act.”
Lawmakers know the political opportunity for carbon pricing legislation is there. Newly-elected Gov. Ned Lamont has promised constituents he will prioritize climate issues during his first term, and has stated that every decision he makes as governor will be viewed through an “environmental lens.” Additionally, Democrats hold majorities in both the Senate (19-16) and House (41-24), increasing the likelihood of passage.
But Steinberg said he believes the way the carbon pricing conversation is framed must drastically change if legislation is to be enacted anytime soon.
“We’re trying to get away from the idea that we’re taxing people in a regressive way,” Steinberg said. “Instead, we want to talk more about things like reducing healthcare costs, creating jobs in the state, and changing the way that energy is generated.”
For now, Steinberg is focused on getting a third chance at a hearing. “We’re fighting to get a hearing,” Steinberg said. “And we’re making the case they should give us another shot.”
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