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2/2/2017 Representative Regunberg, Senator Calkin introduce legislation to reduce fossil fuel reliance
STATE HOUSE — Backed by a coalition of advocates from the business, environmental and faith communities as well as legislators from neighboring states, Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence) and Sen. Jeanine A. Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) have introduced legislation to reduce Rhode Island’s reliance on fossil fuels and bolster the state’s clean energy and green business sector.

The legislation is designed to provide incentives for energy users to reduce their reliance on carbon-emitting fuels and encourage the development of cleaner renewable energy projects that keep Rhode Islanders’ dollars in the state and create jobs locally.

“The need for this legislation has never been more critical,” said Representative Regunberg. “2016 was the hottest year ever recorded in human history, and the devastating impacts of climate change are already being felt here in Rhode Island. Global warming is literally an existential threat for human civilization on this planet — and yet, we have never had a federal administration more hell-bent on ignoring the problem. With Exxon running the State Department and climate deniers at every level of Trump’s administration, we must accept that the ambitious climate action necessary to guarantee an inhabitable planet for our children is not going to come from Washington. It can only come from the states, and that’s why I’m proud to be working with legislators here in Rhode Island and across the Northeast to create a regional carbon pricing strategy that will reduce emissions and bring renewable energy and efficiency to scale in our communities.”            

The legislation would establish a new Clean Energy and Jobs Fund that will invest in renewables and efficiency and help Rhode Islanders lower their energy costs, financed by the fee — set at $15 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 — on carbon pollution, paid by the companies that sell fossil fuels in the state. The legislation is designed to go into effect only after neighboring states with a population of over 5 million pass a similar policy.

Besides investing in clean energy efforts, the fund would also send a per capita or per employee rebate to every family and business in the state. “This bill is a powerful way to grow the clean energy economy, lower our emissions, and create jobs in the state,” said Senator Calkin. “The legislation creates a concrete economic incentive for individuals and businesses to invest in efficiency and renewables, because the cleaner and greener you are, the more you’ll benefit from that rebate.”

Advocates and sponsors were joined by legislators from neighboring states to promote the legislation. Massachusetts Senator Michael Barrett described his excitement at Rhode Island’s regional approach, saying, “We’ve been pushing hard for carbon pricing in Massachusetts and it’s incredible to see the whole region coming forward on this issue. If we are going to fight back against climate change we will need to do so together.”

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Connecticut shared a statement as well. “I am very excited to be working to introduce carbon pricing legislation — modeled after Rhode Island's bill — in the Connecticut House of Representatives. Your Connecticut colleagues applaud Rhode Island's commitment to protecting the health of all of us across New England by considering this carbon-pricing plan. Along with our neighbors in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York, we hope to join Rhode Island in forging a regional carbon pricing policy which will ultimately benefit our citizens for generations to come.”

According to Energize RI, carbon pricing would work to complement already existing energy policy and programs to help Rhode Islanders reduce their energy costs, make renewable energy more available, and put people to work by expanding a growing industry. “This legislation would help jump start one of the strongest segments of our economy, the clean energy sector. This sector is already growing at a rate much stronger than the rest of Rhode Island’s economy, supporting over 14,000 jobs and expected to add 1,500 more by the end of the year,” said Priscilla De La Cruz of People’s Power and Light. “Passing this legislation means more funding to install solar panels, insulate houses, and implement other energy efficiency measures. It means more opportunities for Rhode Islanders to work in a field that has proven itself to be both profitable and sustainable.”
An economic impact study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) estimated that the legislation would create a net growth of 1,000 to 2,000 new jobs in just the first two years of the program. It also noted that Rhode Island spends more than $3.1 billion annually on fossil fuels, nearly all of which flows out of the state. Incentivizing Rhode Islanders to switch from out-of-state fossil fuel sources to local renewables and efficiency will help keep more of than money in Rhode Island, and — according to the study — will also help protect the state from the volatile market swings that often affect these fuel prices.

The legislation establishes that 25 percent of the fees collected would be used for climate resilience, energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy programs; thirty percent would be used to provide direct dividends to employers in the state per full-time employee; and 40 percent would be used to provide direct dividends for every single state resident. Employees and residents would receive their funds via tax credits, or direct checks for those not required to file taxes.

According to Energize RI, the program will not increase energy costs for the average Rhode Island family and businesses, and in fact, will reduce costs for all Rhode Islanders in the long term. In the short term, the average Rhode Island household receives a net gain from the rebate, and even those households whose incomes are higher would have an average net cost of only $25 per year.

The bill has been cosponsored by 25 representatives and 10 senators.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903