Nine States Declare Major Push To Put A Price On Carbon Emissions

Coal-fired power plants would be hit with such a tax. Patrick Pekal/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

Hot on the heels from New York City’s announcement that it’s pursuing unprecedented legal action against five of the world’s largest oil companies, a new coalition of nine states have declared that they’re formally banding together and “accurately accounting for the cost of carbon pollution.”

Dubbed the Carbon Costs Coalition (CCC), these states – Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington – explained to reporters on a press call that they would band together to promote efforts to put prices, or taxes, on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

New York State Senator Kevin Parker described this as a “movement,” one in which members are “thinking globally, and acting locally.”

Carbon pricing isn’t a new idea. Canada’s British Columbia, for example, implemented a carbon tax back in 2008, and plenty of nations have adopted the idea. It’s often perceived as a measure that adds to overall mitigation efforts, rather than an all-encompassing solution by itself.

Currently, no state features a carbon pricing measure. From (unfounded) fears that it will cost jobs to opposition from fossil fuel companies to the public’s mixed perception of what a “carbon tax” actually is, it’s yet to become law anywhere in the US. The CCC hope to change that by promoting their environmental and economic benefits.

The general idea is that, because GHGs lead to climate change-related weather extremes – and subsequent damage to infrastructure, the environment, and human health – a cost should be placed on each unit of equivalent carbon dioxide emissions produced by companies and organizations.

Although deciding on the price varies depending on what parameters you are considering at the time, the concept remains the same: If you have a larger carbon footprint, you’ll pay more. This encourages businesses to cut down on their emissions in order to give less money away, a somewhat free market solution to climate change.

A timeline of carbon pricing. Sightline

All nine states in the CCC have passed, or are about to pass, legislation in their respective territories that puts varying prices on carbon pollution. Some bills are revenue neutral, which means that all the revenue that’s generated will be given back to the taxpayers in order to offset any rising energy costs.

Almost all others are revenue positive, in which the extra money goes to the government – which makes it more like a tax. The former appeals more to small government conservatives, which is why it’s favored in the Republican-led state of Massachusetts.

Either way, the idea is that this will shrink each state’s carbon emissions, as well as generate additional revenue for the government or the taxpayer. The CCC will make sure each state holds their feet to the fire, and to encourage other states to join their efforts.

The call, featuring lawmakers from all nine states, ran through the benefits of carbon pricing. They ranged from helping to improve the health of citizens by cleaning up the air to sending a strong message to the federal government.

“We’re not doing this to punish a specific sector of the economy,” Connecticut Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, told reporters. “We’re doing this to improve the lives for all.”

The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL), a non-profit that advocates and connects pro-environmental legislators, convened two years’ worth of meetings that were precursors to the CCC. Speaking to IFLScience, the NCEL’s Taylor Anderson said that the states involved “cannot wait on the federal government to take action.”

“In the long term, this Coalition hopes that by publicly standing together they will encourage not just the passage of carbon pricing in these nine states but also that more states will follow suit, ultimately creating space for Congress to take up the issue nationally,” she added.

Dan Sherrell, a campaign coordinator for NY Renews – a multifaceted climate advocacy group – told IFLScience that “I'm hopeful that the CCC will grow to encompass legislators from all 50 states, and that the idea of making fossil fuel companies pay for the full cost of their climate emissions will be widely seen as what it is: common-sense.”


“Unprecedented action” is a phrase that could easily define America’s reaction to climate change – in more ways than one.

The Trump administration may have shocked the world by abdicating its responsibility, but – from the Climate Alliance and We Are Still In to this new coalition – bipartisan coalitions of governors, mayors, communities, and business leaders are stepping up to the plate in equally dramatic ways.

Will 2018 be the year that carbon pricing makes it to the shores of the US? The odds vary wildly from state to state, and it’s largely an issue of Democrats versus Republicans, with some exceptions. The CCC isn't sure itself, but we’d suggest that the best bets are the states whose legislatures are a deeper shade of blue than others.


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