Climate-Change Carbon Fee on Fuel in Massachusetts May Be Headed for Shelf

Printed from:

The drastic reduction in traffic and changes in the economy during the coronavirus emergency have dampened enthusiasm for a carbon fee on gasoline and diesel in Massachusetts – including among residents and the state’s governor.

A new poll released by Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance – which opposes the carbon fee – suggests that residents of the state are cooling on the idea of a Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon fee on fuel.

The poll found that about 56 percent of respondents said they are either somewhat less likely or much less likely to support the fuel fee when “knowing it will increase the cost of fuel for blue collar and essential workers who are largely unable to work from home.” The poll also found that nearly 67 percent think Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who has supported the Transportation and Climate Initiative in the past, should rethink his position.

The survey of 500 state residents was conducted late last week by Advantage Inc. for Fiscal Alliance Foundation, and claims a margin of error of 4.4 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

The proposed initiative is supposed to unit Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states in charging a fee for fuel that would generate revenue to make improvements to public transportation, therefore providing a disincentive for driving by increasing the cost of gasoline and an incentive for taking public transportation by improving its service. Supporters say it would reduce traffic on the roads and carbon emissions, which they say leads to climate change.

Opponents question the urgency of the measure and reject the means of achieving it.

Estimates of the likely cost of the carbon fee on fuel has risen dramatically over the last year. In December 2019, government officials projected an increased price of up to 17 cents a gallon on gasoline. A study in March 2020 (released by opponents of the proposal) found the price of gasoline could go up 26 cents a gallon. A new study released this month suggests the price might go up 38 cents a gallon.

Supporters of the carbon fee on fuel have questioned those findings and have called for patience as policymakers work out a potential cap on costs, saying the proposed initiative is vital to combating climate change. Yet the cost projections have some government leaders skittish about the program.

Other governors in New England had been edging away from the Transportation and Climate Initiative before coronavirus hit, out of concerns about the cost increase of gasoline.

Baker had remained a supporter. Yet the governor suggested recently that he is rethinking the idea. And he sounded unenthusiastic about the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon fee on fuel when asked about it during a coronavirus press conference Monday, November 23.

“TCI was based on a certain set of assumptions about volume, right? And congestion. And it may be that at some point – you know, I don’t know when that would be, down the road – we’ll be back to where we were with respect to that. But I think at this point in time it’s important to sort of reexamine a lot of assumptions that went into what the impact would be in terms of carbon reduction, based on the changing nature of transportation generally,” Baker said. “And I think that is an important element, not just for us but for the other states that are participating in this conversation. If you pursue a price on carbon associated with transportation, what do you get for that price on carbon, in a world that looks a lot different now — and potentially will stay a lot different for the next several years — relative to the one we thought we were living in a year ago?”

The governor did not declare the initiative dead, but said a formal declaration is expected soon.

“Our goal and our assumption is that by the end of the year, people will make a decision,” Baker said.

Paul Diego Craney, an adviser to the Fiscal Alliance Foundation’s board and a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said his organization’s poll results suggest the governor is on the right track.

“Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly support Governor Baker’s recent rethinking of TCI during the COVID-19 pandemic. By a margin of nearly 2 of every 3 likely voters, they strongly or somewhat agree with the Governor. The Governor should feel confident that he has the support of the people as he rethinks entering Massachusetts into the TCI compact during the pandemic,” Craney said in a written statement Monday, November 23. “A majority of likely voters are strongly against TCI knowing it will impact ‘essential’ workers the most — people who cannot simply ‘Zoom’ into work, but must continue to drive. Massachusetts voters realize the world has changed since the pandemic and as a result, a majority of voters show concerns with the TCI program because of who it will impact the most — blue collar workers, essential workers, and the poor.”