OPINION: State Rep. Mary Mushinsky: The carbon costs coalition to protect our future

OPINION: State Rep. Mary Mushinsky: The carbon costs coalition to protect our future

By Mary Mushinsky

Steve Knight and I will be dead (Record-Journal column, March 31), but the food and water shortages, extreme weather, human conflicts and enormous expense of climate change will fall on our children and grandchildren if adults fail to cut fossil fuel use. There is little time left to act: 12 years. That’s all the time that scientists say we have left to stop the runaway heating of Earth. After that deadline, if fossil fuel emissions continue unabated, the temperature will climb and continue to rise to levels not seen in three million years, before humans ever walked the earth.

A coalition of northeast states-ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT and NY have been meeting to coordinate efforts to protect our populations. Connecticut legislators like myself are part of this coalition. We seek to shift away from fossil fuels using technology and market forces, including carbon pricing. The bills in each of these states differ a bit, and none have passed to date.

Climate change has already started — according to Fox Business News, climate disasters around the world in the last three years cost $650 billion, and the bulk of these costs fell on Americans. This is an enormous financial loss, and it has only just begun.

Provinces in Canada have begun to use carbon pricing, a market-based method of reducing emissions. Their model collects a fee on fuels at the wholesale level based on level of emissions and returns a rebate once a year to residents of the province. 70 percent of the province’s residents receive a rebate check that is larger than what they paid. The 30 percent minority who are major fossil fuel users get back less than they paid in. In this rebate or revenue neutral model, all funds are returned to the public. Fossil fuel use is declining as a result.

Another version that Northeast states are examining invests part of the funds into energy saving technology and related jobs. This is the investment model of carbon pricing. It failed to pass in Oregon.

Connecticut’s version of carbon pricing, the bill raised by the Environment Committee, was a hybrid. My two bills were a rebate model and an investment model. The committee combined the two concepts into one bill for a public hearing. The bill is dead for the third year, but wind power, transportation alternatives and solar job bills that I am supporting are still under consideration. There is promising technology: some residents and businesses, including Wallingford’s senior housing and Strain Measurement Devices, use heat and cooling directly from the earth, because underground Connecticut is about 52 degrees year-round. Tapping underground creates natural air conditioning in the summer and requires only 20 more degrees of heat to reach a comfortable 72 degrees F in the winter.

The market approach of carbon costs is designed to gradually increase the price of problem fuels and shift consumers to use cleaner energy and more efficient technology. If carbon pricing can’t pass, we still have only 12 years remaining to protect our families and our community. Humans began changing the climate only in the last 160 years of our existence on Earth. We have never before lived on a runaway hot planet. Without the market approach, the states face this problem: how do we move away from fossil fuels in time to save our descendants?

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky represents the 85th District and is Assistant Deputy Speaker.