WE ARE THE MAYORS of Salem and Holyoke, two medium-sized Gateway Cities. Our communities are more than 100 miles apart, but both are feeling the impacts of climate change. We are experiencing severe storms, unpredictable flooding, drought, and damage to homes, businesses, roads, and infrastructure. Climate change is disrupting city operations and straining budgets.
In Salem, a coastal city, extreme heat, extreme precipitation, sea level rise, and storm surges present the biggest challenges. Flooding during winter storms in January 2018 was among the worst Salem has seen in over 50 years. Ocean waters and rain-filled city streets stranded motorists and brought down power lines. Salem’s sea level is expected to rise four feet by 2050, and the community’s critical infrastructure – its emergency power, wastewater treatment, roadways, and even its evacuation routes – is all located within flood zones.
Meanwhile, Holyoke is challenged by changing weather patterns near and far. Holyoke has more Puerto Rican residents per capita than any American city outside of Puerto Rico. When Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2018, 2,200 displaced families came to Holyoke and 247 children enrolled in the city’s schools. The number of oppressively hot days continues to rise in Holyoke, as it has across the state, stressing the health of low-income and elderly residents, particularly if they cannot afford cooling.
Salem and Holyoke are fully committed to reducing our cities’ greenhouse gas emissions, but we cannot solve climate change on our own. We need bold, state leadership.
The Massachusetts Legislature needs to act, this session, to pass H2810, An Act to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Promote Green Infrastructure. Sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Benson of Lunenburg, the bill establishes a fee on the carbon in fossil fuels and returns most of the revenues from that fee to Massachusetts households and businesses. It invests the remainder in local renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, and resilience.
A carbon fee is a charge on gas, oil, and coal. The fee is based on the amount of carbon dioxide these fuels emit when burned. As this fee slowly rises over time, dirty energy becomes more expensive, and customers are encouraged to reduce their use of fossil fuels and move to cleaner energy options.
Many people, understandably, are concerned that this approach will cause the prices of gas and heating fuels to rise. However, unlike most governmental fees that disappear forever into government coffers, 70 percent of the revenues from the carbon fee will be given back to Massachusetts residents and businesses in the form of rebates. Every household will get two rebate checks a year. People who use less energy – including the vast majority of low- and moderate-income households – will get back more in rebates than they pay in any increased fuel costs.
Every person will receive a basic rebate, then low- and moderate-income residents will get an additional amount, to protect them from increased costs. Rural households will also get an additional rebate to compensate them for the extra distances they often have to drive.
The remaining revenue from the carbon fee – an estimated $400 million in the first year and $600 million by the fifth year – will be invested in local projects that help people transition away from fossil fuels and prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will administer some of the funds, and municipalities can apply to develop local projects, such as community solar installations, new public transit, energy upgrades at local schools, community cooling centers, and flood control measures.
To make sure that everyone benefits, the proposed legislation requires that 40 percent of investment funds be directed to low- and middle-income households and communities with lower median incomes. In addition, $16 million to $28 million of each year’s revenues will be added to the state’s fuel assistance program, and additional funds will be used to help workers retrain for new clean energy jobs.
We know that the federal government will not act. It is up to our state leaders to show bold leadership, for our state and region, and for the country.
Kim Driscoll is the mayor of Salem and Alex Morse is the mayor of Holyoke.