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350 Mass Organizes to Support Fair Carbon Pricing Legislation

On Saturday, March 28, ten Fair Carbon Pricing organizers from around the state met in Worcester. There were three important outcomes. First, the group decided to officially join the MA Carbon Pricing Coalition. Second, the group determined who would work to enlist the support of the high-priority legislators. Third, the group agreed to an approach for organizing legislative action across 350Mass campaigns. Equally important, there was a great deal of new information and thoughtful analysis that was shared throughout the meeting.

Joining the Coalition: Why did 350 Massachusetts need to join the Coalition when The Better Future Project was already a member? Here’s why. 350 Massachusetts is a volunteer organization supported by professional Better Future Project staff. These staffers facilitate meetings and provide administrative support, but 350 Massachusetts decisions are made by its volunteers, not by staffers.  In a nutshell, 350 Massachusetts volunteers have been organizing around carbon pricing without yet having a “seat at the Carbon Pricing Coalition table.” On March 28th we decided to join.

Why was this important? Simply put, operating independently from the Coalition has blocked us from learning about the research and polling behind Coalition decisions and to weigh in on those decisions.

For example, we learned on Saturday that there’s some MA and VT survey data showing that in some polls and focus groups, people preferred policies that invested revenues in clean energy and transportation programs compared to “revenue neutral” policies that returned all the revenues. Those familiar with the polling explained the reasons behind the results. It turns out that some people are suspicious of revenue-neutral and they don’t understand the economics behind it. They’ll say things like “Why tax my money and then just return all you’ve taken?” But, they do favor carbon pricing when it’s linked to clean energy programs. (For more on polling, see the Postscript at the end of this article.)

At the March 28th meeting, we also learned that the revenue-neutral option, while predicted by the DOER study to lead to job growth, was also predicted to produce some job loss in certain industries, specifically Warehousing & Transportation, Construction, Manufacturing, Utilities, and State & Local Government. These industries are mostly unionized, and so a revenue-neutral bill could expect some opposition from organized labor. Conversely, labor representatives have been polled and they support carbon pricing if revenues are allocated to weatherization, transportation, and solar programs. Furthermore, the Coalition is starting to discuss innovative and holistic approaches such as a Green Infrastructure Bank that would provide low-interest loans and loan guarantees.

The Coalition still hasn’t taken a position on the “revenue-neutral” issue and is at this point supporting both bills. We’re glad that now we have a seat at the table to participate in these discussions.

Node Assignments: In our second meeting task, we mapped 15 high-priority legislators to the 350 Mass nodes that match their districts. (These 15 are the five senators and ten representatives who are considered to have the most influence on whether or not a carbon pricing bill will be made into MA law, and who aren’t on record yet as endorsing one of the bills.) Every Node’s assignments have been added to the spread sheet written about below. We will also work with Democratic and Republican Town Committees plus other civic and religious organizations and local activists to provide education about carbon pricing and build support.

Here is the link to the spreadsheet.

Integrating the Campaigns to Influence Legislation: A few weeks ago, Alexander Gard-Murray, a grad student from the Cambridge node developed a spreadsheet showing which legislators had endorsed the carbon pricing bills. We in the Pioneer Valley have been thinking about how to best use that tool. On March 28 we collaborated with Alexander to present our ideas and they were accepted. Perhaps more importantly, the tool has inspired us to integrate legislative action across all three campaigns – Divestment, ReNEWable Mass, and Fair Carbon Pricing. We’ll say more about that in a future article.

Here is the link to the spreadsheet.

Postscript: After the meeting, we learned about a University of Michigan study that found 70% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans support carbon pricing “with revenue used for research and development for renewable energy programs.” Support drops to 65% Democrats and 43% Republicans when “…revenue-neutral carbon pricing has revenues returned to public via rebates.” When revenue use is not specified, it’s 47% / 15%. http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/22300-support-for-carbon-tax-grows-when-revenue-fuels-renewable-energy. Posting these results prompted a constructive exchange in our Carbon Pricing Google group, with one member noting that “we really need to do a good job explaining the concept of how rebates will spur R&D in a market – based way, without the government picking winners and losers;” while another pointed out that “it’s a great thing that [this poll shows that]the public supports more spending on clean energy….Is it better to meet the public where they are at, or better to spend a ton of energy and effort educating the public to get them to understand something [revenue-neutral] that they don’t yet understand?” For now, my view is, let’s get a better understanding of the carbon-pricing polling research and use that broader understanding to inform our views and decisions! There are probably a bunch of studies out there, and over the next few weeks I’ll try to find some of them and include a summary in a future newsletter article.

Dave Roitman, droitman1@verizon.net, 413 535 7173