President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo, the Ball is in Your Court

In separate speeches to prominent business groups this past month, as reported by the Boston Globe, the leaders of both chambers of the state legislature asked for private sector support in advancing bold policies to address a number of challenges facing the state. Transportation has risen to the top of this list, fueled by deteriorating infrastructure and growing public backlash.

While many of us experience gridlock daily caused by our derelict transportation system, the issues goes far beyond just longer commute times. Public health concerns and increased carbon emissions leading to climate change make the issue more immediate and multifaceted. As the state has experienced unprecedented population growth, far outpacing the national average, these problems have only worsened. It is time to move forward with policy solutions that further transition our economy away from fossil fuels, solve our transportation woes, and set the pace for the nation.

The only question that remains is whether our legislative leaders are ready to act.

In his speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, House Speaker Robert DeLeo called on business leaders to deal with our transportation challenges, saying “I think we’re at a stage where if we’re going to get serious about addressing this issue then everything and anything has to be on the table.” Later that same week Senate President Karen Spilka spoke to the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, emphasizing the need to take bold steps, not just incremental ones, when it comes to passing environmental and climate legislation.

Carbon Pricing As Policy

As a policy, carbon pricing kills both birds with one stone. It boldly deals with climate change by reducing state carbon emissions to meet our legally binding climate goals. At the same time it raises billions of dollars a year in revenue for local public transportation, and other necessary clean energy investments. According to an independent analysis conducted for the state’s Department of Energy Resources, a $40/ per ton carbon price in Massachusetts would also create nearly 12,000 new jobs and increase state economic output by over $600 million per year.

Two carbon pricing bills have been introduced before the Massachusetts legislature. The newly selected House Health Care Financing chair, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenberg), filed H.2810, the House’s main carbon pricing bill. Meanwhile, Senator Michael Barrett (D-Lexington), President Spilka’s point person on energy issues, filed S.1924, the Senate’s carbon pricing bill. Collectively, the bills were cosponsored by over 60% of the members of both chambers, the most of any energy or climate proposal filed this session.

Businesses Support Carbon Pricing

As an idea, carbon pricing has taken the business community by storm. The appeal stems from the policy’s ability to use market-driven innovation to deal with the dual challenges of increasing carbon pollution and a needed source of revenue for investing in transportation infrastructure and access. According to the World Bank, “over 1,000 businesses and investors… signaled their support for carbon pricing ahead of the UN Climate Leadership Summit”, including international corporations like Coca-Cola, Schneider Electric, and Nestlé.

Another strong reason why businesses are supporting carbon pricing is because of its proven track record of success in other economies. The same World Bank reported noted that, “nearly 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces, from British Columbia to Tokyo, are demonstrating the benefits of carbon pricing or plan to start soon.”

Local businesses have also engaged with the idea of a carbon price. A letter calling on legislative leaders to pass a carbon price this session, has already been signed by 132 local business leaders in 52 Massachusetts cities and towns. Signatories include the owners of Waltham’s Spencer Organ Company, Wayland’s Longfellow Health Clubs, Watertown’s Brazo Fuerte Artisanal Beer, and others.

Whats Next?

Last session’s ‘grand bargain’ on healthcare was made possible because lawmakers, business groups, and advocacy organizations formed a consensus around the need to act and legislative leaders brought them to the table to iron out the details. With carbon pricing we’re already past the difficult work of agreeing on an approach. At this point it’s clear that carbon pricing has gained acceptance among local business leaders, that it has quite a bit of backing in the legislature, and is supported by the climate action community.

Now it’s time for legislative leaders to put the pieces together. Speaker DeLeo and President Spilka have an opportunity to bring these groups to the table this session to tackle emissions and fix our crumbling transportation system through a carbon pricing. Now is the time to do it.