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Sometimes when you’re trying to get folks up at the statehouse to embrace big ideas for progressive change, you have to look for indirect signs of movement in your direction. It’s kind of like the way astronomers deduced there might be a ninth planet in our solar system because of the behavior of other objects in the vicinity.

Clean Water Action is a member of the Energize Rhode Island coalition, which is promoting legislation to place a fee on fossil fuel companies based on the amount of CO2 released when their products are burned. The money would be used for rebates to homeowners and businesses to cover any increase in power rates and to support weatherization and energy efficiency programs.

Anticipating heavy resistance from business interests, we scheduled a series of briefings with key lawmakers before going public to promote the economic benefits of carbon pricing (1,000 new jobs in the first two years, incentivizing local renewable energy firms, keeping some of the $3 billion that goes to out-of-state energy providers in the Rhode Island economy).

We wanted a chance to frame the debate a bit before our public announcement of the bill’s introduction at a press conference on Jan. 26. That morning, I opened the largest newspaper in the state to find an interview with the president of the Senate touting her own package of recommendations to “Grow Green Jobs.” And a round-table discussion was scheduled with stakeholders at the statehouse to take place an hour before our press conference down the hall.

Maybe that timing was just a random coincidence. The Senate president was not one of our briefing targets. There was no mention of carbon pricing in the “Grow Green Jobs” handout.  But a number of those goals and initiatives dovetail nicely with the objectives of Energize RI and could be funded with a carbon fee.

At any rate, it was encouraging to see a powerful legislator getting behind proposals that accept as a given that helping the environment and strengthening the economy are not mutually exclusive propositions. I look forward to working with the Senate presidents and any other legislators who want to Energize RI.

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