Our Opinion: State carbon tax should be explored

The institution of a state carbon tax that could both reduce pollution and boost the renewable energy industry has been discussed on Beacon Hill off-and-on over the last few years. Judging by the number of co-sponsors of enabling legislation — more than half of the 200 total lawmakers — its time may be coming.

Under the bill, the state would institute a $20-per-ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuels and increase the tax $5 a year up to $40 a ton (Eagle, July 15). Thirty percent of the revenue collected, estimated by proponents at between $400 and $600 million a year, would be placed in a Green Infrastructure Fund to be used in part for projects combating global warming, such as renewable energy projects. Seventy percent of the revenue would be rebated to businesses and households to offset increased fuel costs. Low income and low-middle income residents may get more in rebates than they pay out in increased costs, say advocates.

A report five years ago from the state Department of Energy Resources asserted that a carbon tax could lead to 4,000 to 10,000 jobs by 2030, primarily because businesses will be spending less on importing fuels. That may or may not prove to be true, but the legislation should at least open up more jobs in the renewable energy field. That is what environmentally enlightened countries are doing and Massachusetts shouldn't be left behind.

Opponents of the legislation claim it will cost thousands of private sector jobs but they have failed to buttress their concerns. The conservative Beacon Hill Institute claims that the state cannot do enough on its own to combat climate change. Doing nothing because you can't do everything is defeatist. With the White House and Senate in the control of climate change deniers who are in turn controlled by the fossil fuel industry, there won't be a federal carbon tax any time soon. The New England states and New York have worked together on environmental issues in recent years and there is every reason to believe that a team effort on climate change will help as well — and doing a little as part of the solution is wiser than doing nothing as part of the problem.

We hope that there will be a vigorous debate on this bill in the months ahead and it will not be back-burnered into committee. More specifics are needed from both advocates and opponents, as are more details on how the Department of Revenue will distribute the windfall to assure that it will have the most benefit.

The scientific consensus is clear and has been for some time: Climate change triggered by global warming is upon us and its effect will worsen in the years ahead. Only the anti-science political ideologues are left in opposition and they hold sway in Washington. They don't in Boston, and should the Legislature craft a workable carbon tax that addresses the legitimate concerns of skeptics it could help advance the climate change effort not only in other states but, perhaps at some point, on a national level.