Possible 17-Cents-A-Gallon Global-Warming Gas Increase ‘A Very Small Price,’ Massachusetts Energy Secretary Says

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2019/12/20/possible-17-cents-a-gallon-global-warming-gas-increase-a-very-small-price-massachusetts-energy-secretary-says/

By Matt Murphy
State House News Service

The Massachusetts lead negotiator on a multi-state pact to lower carbon emissions from vehicles said Thursday she was not surprised New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu withdrew his state from talks, as he slammed the program as a “financial boondoggle.”

Massachusetts Energy Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said Thursday after testifying before the Senate Global Warming Committee that New Hampshire’s participation in the still-developing Transportation Climate Initiative was not essential to its success.

Asked if she was surprised by Sununu’s reaction, Theoharides simply said, “No.”

However, as the chair of the coalition of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states pursuing the regional cap-and-invest program, Theoharides said a “critical mass” of participation from the 12 original states and District of Columbia will be necessary to make the Transportation Climate Initiative successful.

“We certainly don’t think of this as a financial boondoggle,” Theoharides told State House News Service on Thursday, December 19. “It’s states working together to achieve significant, multi-generational goal, which is reducing climate change, and being able to use the proceeds on an individual level in each of their states to invest in the clean transportation system of the future.”

The coalition released detailed financial models this week as it moves closer to asking states to sign on to the pact next spring to drive down emissions from the transportation sector by requiring fuel suppliers to purchase allowances for every ton of carbon their fuel would emit when burnt. Transportation emissions account for more than 40 percent of all carbon pollution in the region, and the cap-and invest program could generate up to $7 billion in fees paid by fuel providers to state governments by 2032 for states to invest in clean alternatives.

The states are exploring three scenarios to reduce emissions from cars and trucks by 20 percent, 22 percent, or 25 percent by 2032. Depending on the cap chosen by states, the program could add between 5 cents to 17 cents to the price of a gallon of gas.

“We are already taking substantial steps to curb our carbon emissions, & this initiative, if enacted, would institute a new gas tax by up to 17 cents per gallon while only achieving minimal results. This program is a financial boondoggle and the people of NH will never support it,” Sununu said immediately after the draft memo of understanding was released Tuesday, December 17.

Other governors considered to be on the fence, like Vermont Governor Phil Scott, have not yet commented publicly on the draft proposal.

Theoharides said the Transportation Climate Initiative coalition hasn’t yet examined how many states it would take to make a regional pact work. Other participating jurisdictions include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

“We haven’t done specific modeling on that, and I think one of the reasons we haven’t is because right now our goal is to get as many states as possible. But we certainly are looking for states to make this a meaningful market with real power,” Theoharides said.

“We certainly will be talking more about what that size is as we move towards the spring,” she added.

State Senator Michael Barrett, the vice chairman of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, suggested that Massachusetts could join a market for carbon with California if the Transportation Climate Initiative coalition falls apart.

While Theoharides said it’s true that states do not need to be contiguous for a carbon market to function, she said the ideal scenario would be to make it work with states on the East Coast that share transportation networks.

“It is helpful to have states that touch each other, that share borders and transportation networks,” Theohardies said. She said the price increases under consideration were smaller than some of the current differences in gas prices between states or the fees to use a credit card at the pump.

“It’s a very small price and so we don’t expect people to be crossing state borders to get cheaper prices based on what we’re setting up here, but it certainly makes it easier if states in the same geography are all participating in the same program,” Theoharides said.

New Hampshire was one of nine states in the coalition that would have required the approval of its Legislature to join the Transportation Climate Initiative in the spring when the program details are finalized.

Only in Massachusetts, Maryland, and New York does the governor theoretically already have the authority to sign their states up unilaterally.

Along with New Hampshire, Maine and New York were initially considered to be “observer” states when the Transportation Climate effort began in December 2018, but Theoharides said those distinctions have blurred over time.

“All of the states are participating at the same level now, working toward a spring sign on,” she said.

Barrett suggested that the three models for carbon emission reductions, peaking at 25 percent, were “quite moderate” and probably not enough to achieve his goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Both Theoharides and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, however, said it’s vital to start generating money for investments in cleaner transportation to giver drivers an alternative to their cars before using price more aggressively to change driving behaviors.