9 states buck the Trump administration and move forward with a price on carbon pollution

Currently only one state in the country has an economy-wide cap on carbon. These states want to change that.

Emissions rise out of two large smoke stacks at a coal-fired power plant. (CREDIT: George Frey/Getty Images)
Emissions rise out of two large smoke stacks at a coal-fired power plant. (CREDIT: George Frey/Getty Images)

Lawmakers from nine states announced on Wednesday that they would be forming a coalition to help pass carbon pricing at the local level, citing the importance of state-level policies in the face of federal inaction on climate.

This is the next logical step in terms of protecting our planet, not just for the people of our state, but literally the world,” New York State Senator Kevin Parker (D), said on a press call announcing the formation of the coalition. “This is a global crisis where we need to be thinking globally and acting locally.”

Currently, California is the only state in the country to have an economy-wide cap on carbon emissions, which it enacted in 2012, and which legislators voted last summer to extend. But legislators from the nine participating states — New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — have been working together over the past two years to craft legislation and messaging around the idea of a carbon tax that would touch all parts of the state’s economy, from energy to transportation. Some, like Oregon, are far enough along in the process that the legislature could consider a carbon tax sometime this session. Others, like New Hampshire, are considering bills that would create task forces to study the issue further.

While each state in the coalition will ostensibly write and pass its own version of a carbon tax, lawmakers participating in the group said that it has been helpful to discuss how to best message the issue to their constituents


One of the big takeaways for me in working with the group is not only are we talking about actual language and comparing bills and really vetting some of those areas, we’re talking about how we can work in a political environment like we’re in,” Massachusetts State Representative Jen Benson (D) said. “We can compare how we have been approaching all the different players in our states, and work on that together.”

Lawmakers in different states are already working on honing their particular message to suit the political winds in their state. In Rhode Island, for instance, a state that imports all of its energy from out of state sources, representatives have been stressing the idea that a price on carbon would incentivize renewable energy production within the state, leading to greater investment in local economies. In Connecticut and Maryland — both states that struggle with air pollution — lawmakers have pushed a message about public health, arguing that a price on carbon would help reduce pollutants associated with fossil fuel-fired energy generation.

In Washington, lawmakers have pressed forward with that idea that a price on carbon would allow the state, which is home to businesses like Microsoft and Amazon, to invest in cutting-edge, green infrastructure. And in New York and Oregon, legislators have worked to ensure that a carbon tax would be used to further issues of environmental justice by ensuring that a majority of the profits raised from any tax would be reinvested in vulnerable communities.

Pollution pricing is about equity, and showing that we are aggressively cutting emissions that disproportionately impact communities of color,” New York’s Parker said.


Messaging aside, however, passing a carbon tax is a difficult political task even for the most environmentally-progressive states. In Oregon, for instance, where lawmakers have introduced “cap-and-invest” bills that would require the state’s largest polluters to purchase emissions credits and reinvest that money in adaptation and mitigation programs, senior state senators have suggested that the bill might fall short in the current legislative session. And in Washington, where Democrats won a thin majority in the state legislature in November’s election, attempts to put a price on carbon have failed twice before: once at the legislative level, and another time at the ballot box.

Even if all nine states were to enact some kind of price on carbon, it would only represent a small slice of the country’s overall carbon emissions. Rhode Island and Vermont are two of the lowest carbon emitters in the country, while high-emitting states like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois currently have no public plans for enacting a price on carbon.

Still, lawmakers involved in the coalition hope that, by forging ahead with carbon pricing at the state level, they can pave the way for reluctant states — and, potentially, the federal government.

Some of our states will be advancing policies this year, some of our states will be taking 24 months or so,” Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker (D) said. “But what you will see is a coordinated effort to put a price on polluters now and in coming months, so we can advance a meaningful national solution.”