$14 A Gallon?  Massachusetts Net-Zero-Emissions Climate Change Bill Would Be ‘Ruinous,’ Study Argues

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/03/16/14-a-gallon-massachusetts-net-zero-emissions-climate-change-bill-would-be-ruinous-study-argues/

Eliminating carbon emissions from cars and trucks in Massachusetts right away would require taxing gasoline at more than $14 a gallon, a study from the Beacon Hill Institute has found.

Such a proposal is not on the table. But the authors suggest the numbers point to a harsh reality:  Pursuing longer-term climate-change benchmarks toward net-zero carbon emissions will be harmful along the way and ultimately unattainable.

“In order to do it now, you’d have to impose a tax of $14.10 on top of the existing price. That would be to reduce gasoline emissions to zero,” economist and study co-author David Tuerck told NewBostonPost in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It’s supposed to show how crazy it is.”

The study, released late Monday, contends that a bill before the Massachusetts Legislature seeking to combat climate change by requiring net-zero emissions in the state by 2050 is “misconceived” and unsustainable.

“The ‘absolute zero’ approach embodied by this legislation would be economically ruinous,” states the 14-page study from The Beacon Hill Institute for Public Policy and Research, a right-of-center economics think tank. “It would increase costs to the average Massachusetts household to unacceptable levels.”

The study criticizes Massachusetts Senate Bill 9 (“An Act Creating A Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy”). One of the goals of the current version of the bill, which runs to 14,880 words, is “a 2050 statewide emissions limit that achieves at least net zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions …”

The bill’s primary sponsors, state Senator Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) and state Representative Thomas A. Golden Jr. (D-Lowell), could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Supporters of anti-climate-change measures often argue that a combination of government requirements and technical improvements in the coming decades will make it financially feasible to achieve their goals. The study’s authors question that.

“No doubt defenders of the zero-carbon goal would argue that the technology of 2050 will much reduce these numbers. But no one knows by how much because no one knows what the future technology will look like,” the study states. “The point is that proponents of the zero-emissions goal do not bother to think through the improvements in technology that their ideas would necessitate – improvements that are far beyond our imagination now.”

The study notes that Massachusetts by itself accounts for only a small portion of the country’s carbon emissions, and that the United States accounts for only 15 percent of the world’s emissions — so the authors argue a Massachusetts-only initiative would have little effect.

“At this point, it becomes nonsensical to enact a carbon reduction plan if it is not being implemented at the global level,” the study states.

The authors of the study (titled “Zero Massachusetts CO2 Emissions by 2050?  Rethinking Climate Policy in the Bay State”) are David Tuerck, a retired economics professor at Suffolk University and president of the Beacon Hill Institute; and Kerstin Gordon, a research intern with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

The authors argue that a carbon tax makes more sense than setting what they describe as an unreachable standard of net-zero emissions by a certain date. The authors stop short of endorsing a carbon tax, however.

“A carbon tax assures that emission reductions will be accomplished at the lowest possible social cost. If the United States adopted a carbon tax and if it secured the participation of other countries in a similar effort, it could bring about a substantial reduction in global emissions,” the authors say. “Whether that would confer net benefits on the global economy is another matter to be determined.”

A July 2019 study co-authored by Tuerck called a carbon tax proposed specifically for Massachusetts in a previous bill before the state Legislature “A High-Cost, Low-Benefit Policy.”

Tuerck’s 2019 study on the proposed carbon tax found that a $20 tax on a metric ton of carbon emissions would raise the price of gasoline by about 18 cents and reduce emissions from gasoline by 1.2 percent.

That 2019 study was funded by Fiscal Alliance Foundation. Tuerck told NewBostonPost on Tuesday that the study released this week concerning the net-zero-emissions bill was not funded by another group.

NewBostonPost asked Tuerck for the math behind the $14.10 gas tax figure in the current study. He supplied it, and the document is available on the NewBostonPost web site.

In the study, Tuerck and Gordon note that Massachusetts has already achieved significant reductions in emissions. The authors refer to a report released by the state’s environmental agencies in 2017 that found that greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 “were 21.4% below the 1990 baseline level … despite a 14% growth in population and 24% growth in vehicle miles traveled …”

“The question, therefore, arises whether Massachusetts needs to further steps to reduce its carbon initiative,” Tuerck and Gordon write.

Even if the state does need to reduce emissions, the authors contend, the net-zero-emissions proposal is going about it the wrong way. The zero-emissions climate-change bill, they say, “removes from consideration any thought of a less extreme, intermediate solution while presenting itself as a social necessity.”

“Massachusetts voters should wonder why their legislative leaders have shifted their attention from the idea of a carbon tax to that of a zero-carbon goal. It is easy to figure out why:  If they proposed a tax high enough to reach the same goal, the voters would recoil in horror,” the study states.

A version of the net-zero climate change bill passed both chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature late last legislative session, but Governor Charlie Baker pocket vetoed it after the session expired in January. Baker administration officials and legislative leaders have been negotiating changes to the bill during the past several weeks.

Baker, a Republican, has said he shares the goal of supporters of the bill of trying to achieve zero net emissions by 2050 – “The science is clear — the Commonwealth, the nation and the world must achieve net zero emissions by 2050 if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” the governor wrote in a February 7 message that contained his proposed amendments to the current bill.

As for changes, the governor wants, among other things, somewhat less aggressive targets for reductions of carbon emissions in 2030 and 2040 on the way to zero emissions in 2050; more flexibility in setting goals for reductions in emissions in specific sectors of the economy; and more flexibility to implement building codes that encourage more below-market-rate housing to be built in the state.

On Monday, March 15, the Massachusetts Senate approved an amendment to the bill filed by Governor Baker, 39-1. Only state Senator Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) voted against the amendment.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has not yet acted on the governor’s proposed amendments.

The governor’s press office could not be reached Tuesday, March 16.