Advocates push for carbon pricing bill ahead of new congressional session

Volunteers from the Berkshire County chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, along with state Rep. Brian Ashe (bottom right), D-Longmeadow, met Monday via Zoom with Patrick O’Connor (bottom center), an aide to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Springfield.

Climate advocates in the Berkshires and beyond see the upcoming congressional session as an ideal opportunity to pass a bipartisan carbon pricing law.

The election of Joe Biden, advocates say, will install an executive branch that has expressed a commitment to decreasing carbon emissions. Gains made by minority parties in both the House and Senate, they believe, will make the session beginning in January a time ripe for a bipartisan climate effort.

“I really feel like this is the first Congress [in the past decade] where we’ve got a chance to move meaningful climate change legislation,” said Donald Addu, program director for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan grassroots advocacy group. “Ultimately correcting the market failure that we’ve seen that has allowed climate change to take place is fundamental.”

CCL has been pushing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a proposal backed by 83 House lawmakers that would charge a fee when fossil fuels are first sold into the economy. The fee would increase over time, and funds would be distributed equally to each U.S. household as an energy dividend.

The Berkshire County CCL chapter met Monday with an aide to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Springfield, to present analysis on that bill and discuss the climate picture in the House.

When CCL chapters meet with lawmakers or their aides, they not only push the group’s priorities but also take notes to get a sense of what lawmakers think.

“The feeling is with any policy we want it to be durable, so the CCL’s focus is always on bipartisanship,” said Judy Fox, who co-founded the Berkshire County chapter last year. “I feel very optimistic about what’s possible right now.”

Neal’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning from the Eagle.

The bill would reduce emissions an estimated 40 percent over 12 years and create 2.1 million jobs over a decade, according to an analysis by independent firms Regional Economic Models. and Synapse Energy Economics, Inc.

Massachusetts has joined a coalition of Northeastern states in the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which seeks to implement a cap on carbon emissions and auction allowances to fuel providers. States could then invest the proceeds toward clean transportation development.

By contrast, the “fee-and-dividend” system CCL backs would delegate funds directly to households, providing economic stimulus.

For “environmental justice” communities, those seen as having been disproportionately hurt by climate impacts, the dividend may at least provide some financial reprieve.

“For strictly financial reasons, we believe this will tie in very well with environmental justice for those groups that are going to need it,” said Juan Rios, CCL’s Northeast sector diversity coordinator. “Unfortunately with COVID-19 a lot of people have gone to the borderline of poverty. Hopefully this bill is a way those effects will be reversed.”

The bottom 10 percent of households by income would see an estimated 7 to 8 percent increase in spending power, Addu said, while the top 10 percent would see around a 1 percent decrease as carbon pricing raises prices of goods.

Health care is expected to see the greatest spending gains, as well as the biggest job growth. Finance and insurance may also see more jobs, as well as renewable energy.

The bill would also include a carbon border adjustment, like the one the European Union has considered, to charge fees on carbon-intensive imports and remove fees on exports to prevent companies from relocating production.

For some of CCL’s newer, younger members, climate advocacy has particular significance.

“It’s my future, it’s my friends’ future — it will be the world we live in,” said Sam Schroeder, a high school senior from Housatonic. “So those decisions today are incredibly important for us to be a part of.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle's Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.