Update: Here’sthe Globe story on the actual agreement, among nine northeastern states. Seems like a big deal.
With regard to the Governor’s new proposal for a regional approach to transportation emissions, discussed below, Senator Barrett thinks it might move only as fast as the most reluctant, and that it might not contain measures of accountability. Can we do more on our own?
From the mailbox:
State Sen. Mike Barrett: Just-announced preference by governors for a regional approach to limiting transportation emissions “puts the most hesitant states in the driver’s seat.”
Northeastern state governors went public today about a new effort to reduce greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. Their likely model is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, launched in 2009 to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants. Senator Mike Barrett, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, is the author of a proposal — passed unanimously by the state Senate in June — to put a carbon price on greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and buildings. His statement follows.
“The governors are, in effect, asking for a one-year timeout on addressing emissions from transportation. Given the urgency of the problem, that’s a big ask. Places like Massachusetts are close to acting on their own. Now, in deference to the new preference for consensus, the region’s most proactive states will slow down until the entire group is ready to move. This puts the most hesitant states in the driver’s seat.
“The more usual way to drive change is to have progressive states lead by example. Massachusetts did not dilly-dally until the entire region enacted health care for all. It did not insist on a RGGI equivalent for gay marriage. It did not wait for a whole bunch of states to pass education reform. Massachusetts did what had to be done, and other places followed.
“As against this record of leading by example, advocates of change through regional consensus point to one supporting precedent, the original RGGI. But agreeing on RGGI took seven years, and transportation is a harder nut to crack. This is sobering.
“On this new proposal, we’re light on checks and balances. There is no regional governor of the northeastern United States who can be held accountable. There is no regional legislature. Advocacy groups might have served us as watchdogs, but some are getting onboard the governors’ train prematurely, when they should be hanging back and insisting on explicit safeguards.
“Legislators may want to trust but verify, but verifying the work of bureaucrats for multiple governors is uncharted territory. We need verification tools. For starters, how about a RGGI for transportation roadmap that promotes timeliness and transparency:
·A written scope of work should, at the outset, define expectations for the year. Within this initial 12 months, we should set specific milestones for measuring progress, describe deliverables expected along the way, and set out a time line. At the six-month mark, we should see a report on milestones reached and next items to be addressed;
· State legislatures should hold oversight hearings and citizen groups should hold community meetings;
· The effort should stay with its one-year deadline, so that progressive states know when to call it quits and pursue carbon fees or carbon taxes on their own;
· Since we’re dealing with transportation fuels, special attention should be paid to low-income people and to rural residents who drive long distances to work;
· Money raised by carbon-pricing transportation is broad-based revenue, so discussions on how to refund it or spend it should be wide-ranging. Environmental programs deserve consideration but so do public transit and even public schools.
“I could get behind a RGGI for transportation that drives serious emissions reductions and comes together soon. What I’m afraid will happen instead is that more than a few governors will lose heart without leaving the coalition, compromising the substance but hidden from view behind the plodding work of building consensus. Will the other governors spot the slowdown and leave the naysayers behind? That will be a hard call — all the more reason why the rest of us need to insist on monitoring and milestones.”