AUGUST MARKED THE first anniversary of the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the largest investment in clean energy in our nation’s history. Still, climate doomsday stories and hostile weather tragedies drive the news coverage and are irresistible clickbait. Sadly, they lead the public to believe we are on a sinking boat without life preservers.
Despite decades of misinformation, it is now indisputable that climate change is here. This year, Massachusetts experienced severe flooding, causing several towns to declare a local state of emergency, with North Andover sustaining close to $30 million in damages. About 75 farms, totaling 2,000 acres in Western Massachusetts, saw severe flood damage. The short-term damage done by the flooding is estimated to be $10 million, with the toll likely to rise. In Central Massachusetts, cities such as Fitchburg are still assessing the damage done by the storms.
On a national level, as firefighters rushed to slow the spread of the wildfires in Hawaii, they found their hydrants starting to run dry. This fire destroyed nearly 1,500 residential buildings, displaced thousands of people, killed nearly 100 people, and reduced to ashes the heart of the community.
July 2023 marked the hottest month in the global temperature record, according to an analysis by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). In the US itself the same month, the temperature of the ocean off of Florida reached 90 degrees.
These climate impacts can cause catastrophic damage to the planet. However, if we are to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, we can “soften the blow” and possibly prevent irreversible damage to our climate. As such, the chairs of the Clean Energy Caucus in the Legislature and co-sponsors of a wide range of climate action bills have been working together in developing strategies to mitigate global warming.
Some solutions, like networked geothermal or anaerobic digesters, are cutting edge, while others such as solar energy, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, are tried and true technologies designed to catalyze the Commonwealth’s transition from fossil fuels to environmentally sustainable energy sources. These solutions do not downplay the urgency of the climate crisis but rather express the effectiveness and importance of mitigation tactics.
As we move forward with the conversation, we must be concerned with funding sources. Even though we cannot know the cost of each solution precisely, the cumulative cost will be in the billions. Our bill, An Act establishing a climate change superfund and promoting polluter responsibility, estimates $75 billion in costs over the next 25 years. However, the cost of doing nothing is much larger.
In observing hazardous weather alone, meteorological modeling shows that a hurricane of category 3 or higher hitting Massachusetts would, at a minimum, cause up to $72 billion in damages. Additionally, property damage caused by flooding is estimated to cost $60 million annually by 2050. These are not the only climate impacts that will harm our state’s health and wealth: extreme heat, drought, and severe weather will increase the toll. We must ensure that the responsibility of handling this cost does not rest on the residents of the Commonwealth but rather the oil and gas companies most responsible for the damage.
Our bill would ensure that all parties engaged in the business of extracting fossil fuels, or refining crude oil, are held accountable for more than 1 billion tons of covered greenhouse gas emissions. Under this bill, all responsible parties will pay the calculated cost of their actions as cost recovery demands.
The secured compensation will be used to fund climate adaptive infrastructure projects within the state such as upgrading storm water drainage systems, making defensive upgrades to roads, bridges, subways, and transit systems, and preparing for and recovering from hurricanes and other extreme weather events. Other projects would include undertaking preventive health care programs and providing medical care to treat illness or injury caused by the effects of climate change.
This fund will be structured to prevent price externalities from burdening consumers. The fee proposed in our bill is based on past activity, so it does not impact ongoing production costs. It is charged to those with the highest levels of past production, leaving companies not subject to the fee to act as price competitors for market share.
Any attempts to set a higher price would be illegal, and unlikely to attract companies that aren’t covered by the fund or have a lower pro-rate payment and a market-based incentive to undercut those who raise prices. Instead, the costs will be borne by corporations and shareholders who have reaped massive profits for decades. This will ultimately lead to more competition, lower prices, and increased consumer choice. It will also create a more equitable market where the companies that caused the pollution are held accountable. Among other purposes, the revenue from the climate change adaptation superfund could offset costs for consumers during the transition to a clean energy future.
Massachusetts prides itself on its leadership in working towards the greater good. As national leaders on climate change, we must demonstrate drive in addressing this crisis and proving, on a national level, that we are capable of mitigating the devastating environmental impacts already affecting the world. Through legislation such as our bill, we can do just that.
Jamie Eldridge is a Democratic state senator from Marlborough. Steven Owens is a Democratic state representative from Watertown.