Columns

Mitra ’18: Energize Rhode Island

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, April 10, 2015

While the media is currently focused on the prelude to the 2016 elections, Rhode Island has the chance to make history by passing a statewide price on carbon. With the “Energize Rhode Island: Clean Energy Investment and Carbon Pricing Act of 2015,” the Ocean State can address the impacts of global warming and set an example for the rest of the nation to follow. But, for that to happen, the Energize Rhode Island Coalition needs the help of the entire Brown community.

As The Herald reported last month, the Energize Rhode Island Act would reduce emissions by placing an initial price of $15 on every ton of carbon, often in the form of fossil fuels, when it is transported into the state. The price would discourage businesses and households from using fossil fuels so as to avoid the fee and incentivize them to invest in clean alternatives. The revenue from the fee would then be re-invested in direct dividends to residents and businesses. Each resident would get an equal rebate, and businesses would get dividends based on their shares of state employment.

A portion of the revenue — 25 percent — will also be invested in state infrastructure. The coalition sees the plan as a way to enlarge Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. Increasing real personal disposable income through the dividends and investing in government work plans would stimulate the state economy.

A recent economic study from Regional Economic Models, Inc. shows that the bill would reduce emissions by a staggering 35 percent and create 1,000 jobs in the next two years. To put that figure into perspective, Raimondo’s signature Infrastructure Bank is predicted to create only a few hundred jobs in a similar time frame.

The Energize Rhode Island Act would also halt the hemorrhaging of state money spent to import fossil fuels from out of state. Since Rhode Island does not have naturally occurring fossil fuels, most of the spending on energy leaves our borders. Reinvesting the revenue in the state economy could boost local industries and increase in-state spending. The bill is one of the rare policy solutions that can benefit both the environment and the economy, proving that environmental legislation is not always a zero-sum game.

Economic benefits aside, the bill would also benefit the state by significantly reducing emissions. It is time we start giving environmental policy the attention it deserves. Global warming is one of the great challenges of our generation. We have a small window to stop the disastrous effects of climate change, and as responsible citizens of this nation and the world, we have to rise to the occasion. For now and for the future, it is imperative that we find solutions to reduce carbon emissions. And the Energize Rhode Island Act is a simple, effective way to safeguard our environment.

The bill is not the first time Brown students have proactively campaigned for positive change. Organized by Solomon Goldstein-Rose ’16 alongside a team of student interns, the Energize Rhode Island Act exemplifies Brown’s history of involvement in state legislation. Our university has a record of making a concrete difference in the nation’s smallest state. I’m proud to say that Brown students are known for their activism and commitment to progress. Coupled with administrative support and the short distance to the State House, this activist streak has ensured that Brown students remain a significant, if undervalued, part of policy in the state.

Just look at Brown’s role in campaigning for same-sex marriage. In spring 2013, the Brown Democrats played an important role in the fight for marriage equality by canvassing and phone-banking to raise awareness. The timely victory of their campaign, which made Rhode Island the 10th state to allow same-sex marriage, invigorated national momentum on the issue.

Another prime example of this influence is the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014, a prelude to the Energize Rhode Island Act, which was drafted with the help of several Brown students and championed by a team of Brown interns working alongside J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology. The Resilient Rhode Island Act was a ground-breaking proposal that promoted resilience and sustainability in the face of the growing impacts of climate change. With the help of our community, the bill was passed in the legislature and committed the state to reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The target is the most ambitious in the country and earned national attention.

Rhode Island may be a small state, but it can pack a punch. Massachusetts and Vermont are considering similar bills that put a tax on carbon. Brown students and Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the economy and the environment and to lead a movement. By showing other states that a carbon price would reduce emissions and stimulate rather than burden the economy, we can catalyze national momentum.

I encourage all members of the Brown community — and the Rhode Island public, for that matter — to join the campaign. The Energize Rhode Island Coalition is looking for volunteers to help with events, phone-banks and state-wide canvassing. Even writing letters to editors and legislators can show support and help bring about a positive outcome: the passing of the bill.

Mili Mitra ’18 is the press coordinator for Energize Rhode Island. For questions about Energize R.I. and how to get involved, contact her at mili_mitra@brown.edu or visit www.energizeri.org.