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Brown junior authors state climate bill

Proposed act would tax carbon entering state, allocate money to clean energy programs

“(Let’s) do what we did for gay marriage for clean energy. Start the momentum at the state level and spur the momentum to actually push this,” said Solomon Goldstein-Rose ’16 regarding a Feb. 25 bill he authored to tax carbon at the state level. “But no state individually can fix global warming,” he said.

The Carbon Pricing and Economic Development Investment Act of 2015, written by Goldstein-Rose last year after the failure of similar legislation in nearby Massachusetts, would tax carbon when it enters the state, usually in the form of fossil fuels. The money raised from the tax would be allocated by the Department of Revenue to clean energy programs, such as environmental research, weatherization of low-income housing or investments in green companies.

If passed, the act would make Rhode Island the first state to tax carbon, hopefully leading to similar programs on a national stage, Goldstein-Rose said. The bill was introduced in the State Senate by Sen. Walter Felag, D-Bristol, Tiverton and Warren, and subsequently introduced in the State House of Representatives by Rep. Daniel McKiernan, D-Providence.

Goldstein-Rose, an engineering and public policy concentrator, has helped lead public input sessions on the bill and communicated with a coalition of environmental groups, local businesses and labor groups.

“The vision has changed over time,” Goldstein-Rose said. “What we’re trying to do is protect Rhode Island from the impacts of global warming.”

J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology, coordinates a team of seven student interns and three outside consultants on the Energize Rhode Island project — the initiative to develop and eventually implement the carbon tax. He sees the bill as a chance for the state to be a national leader while simultaneously improving its own economy.

“We don’t produce any fossil fuels here at all, and so any dollar we spend on fossil fuels just goes straight out of the state. So the more efficient we can be in using the fossil fuel, the less money we’re wasting,” Roberts said. “The act is projected to raise about $150 million in its first year, which could fund some really important things.”

Roberts led a group of students and consultants last year in passing the Resilient Rhode Island Act, creating emission reduction targets for the state. He said he sees the Carbon Pricing Act as a natural step and an incredible tool to meet those ambitious targets.

The bill was most recently referred to the finance committees in both legislative chambers. Roberts and Goldstein-Rose both anticipate it leaving the committees in June — once the state budget is finalized — and hopefully passing a floor vote and being signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo before the end of the legislative session in late June.

“You can’t understand how public policy is made unless you make it yourself. And this is why I love teaching at Brown. The students want to make the world a better place, and they don’t want to wait until they graduate to do so,” Roberts said.

Goldstein-Rose expressed a similar sentiment. “Being students in such a small state, we really can have an impact on state policy, and we can up-and-start something like this, which has been amazing,” he said.


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