State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) is in San Francisco this week to participate in the Global Climate Action Summit organized by California governor Jerry Brown and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The invitation came from organizers of the event. Barrett, Senate chair of the state legislative committee concerned with energy issues, wrote legislation approved unanimously by the Senate earlier this year to “put a price on carbon.” Barrett, along with many economists, contends that carbon pricing is the single most effective step a government can take to combat climate change.
In approving the Barrett language, the Senate became the first legislative body in the U.S., either federal or state, to authorize a revenue-neutral carbon fee or a revenue-positive carbon tax as policy options. Ultimately, after negotiators for the Massachusetts House of Representatives declined to go along, the proposal fell short of becoming law, and Barrett is expected to relaunch the idea when the new Legislature convenes in 2019.
In San Francisco, Barrett is a featured speaker on two summit-affiliated panel discussions, one concerned with carbon pricing at the state government level and the other with novel legislation he’s offering to enable voluntary donations on Mass. state income tax forms to the U.N. Least Developed Countries Fund, as a way to partly offset the abandonment on the federal level of funding for efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable people. Mass. income tax forms already feature a half-dozen similar “tax check-off” donation options, all involving in-state priorities.
Overall, the Global Climate Action Summit aims to reinforce and even deepen commitments made in the breakthrough Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Participating nations — and participating states and municipalities within the U.S. — are joining large companies and institutions in pledging to “go green” by lowering emissions. The Summit is focused particularly on reducing greenhouse gases in the transportation sector in the U.S., Europe, and China.
“In Massachusetts, pollution by cars and trucks is our biggest climate challenge,” Barrett says, “which makes me wonder why our state is a follower rather than a leader on cutting transportation emissions. Massachusetts government likes to say, ‘We’re still in,’ but this muddies the picture. The truth of the matter is, we’re still in without being all in, and that’s just not good enough anymore.”