We’ve not been great believers in Governor Baker’s sense of ambition on transportation. But there are some green shoots of hope for his second term — so many recent developments just in the last month, it’s kind of hard to keep track.
Baker has been talking about the prospect of a regional transportation greenhouse gas initiative, similar to RGGI which affects power generation:
Gov. Charlie Baker’s Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth released its report on Friday and one of its recommendations called for a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.
… The forthcoming announcement will endorse a so-called cap-and-invest approach, and future discussions will chart how the states can go about designing and implementing that type of system, according to advocates.
The goal of the states is to develop a system similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which requires power plants to purchase emission permits. As the cap on permits is slowly reduced, the price of the permits goes up, increasing the price of electricity. The revenues from the sale of the permits are used by the participating states to invest in energy efficiency programs and other initiatives to reduce emissions.https://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/ma-exploring-carbon-fee-on-auto-fuels/
This is very good news, and Baker claims to have the interest of as many as 15 states. This is both a check against inaction at the federal level, as well as proof-of-concept for potential future federal action.
It will also be a considerable political challenge, as voters have often declared that they don’t like gas taxes. This makes Governor Baker’s expenditure of some political capital quite significant, with consequences well beyond the borders of Massachusetts. And it means that advocates will have their hands full making a positive case for a short-term sacrifice with wider benefits. We’re going to need big fat “YOUR TRANSPORT RGGI DOLLARS AT WORK” signs on all projects funded by the tax.
It is always politically treacherous to present the public with a difficult choice, to make voters decide which set of problems they’d prefer to have. These changes are not particularly radical, compared with the imminent and destructive changes to be wrought by climate change — or even with the typical volatility of the fossil fuel market. But people will have to decide whether they prefer a.) driving gasoline-powered cars and trucks, or b.) a livable planet and clean air for their kids. They’ll have to be constantly reminded that they’re making that choice by default, one way or the other, every day. And the solutions simply must be collective in nature: Formed by popular consensus, but also inherently coercive, in the same sense that one can’t simply choose to drive on the left side of the road. For the sake of public safety, we must be gently prodded, required to lower emissions. It’s common sense, but it’s not necessarily going to be easy.
So it’s important to give Governor Baker (and the legislature) the kind of prodding and political backup he needs to follow through. We need to maintain a powerful and resilient public consensus, on behalf of the safety of all. Strap in.