My Turn: Voters have spoken on carbon cash-back

For the Monitor
Published: 3/16/2020 6:15:13 AM

Eighteen out of 22 New Hampshire towns’ voters passed a “Resolution to take action on climate pollution” in town meetings and ballots last week.

This is an encouraging result for a grassroots collaborative effort between a few climate and energy groups that began just a few months ago.

After attending an October hearing of the N.H. House’s Science Energy, and Technology Committee on the carbon cash-back bill, HB 735, a few of us hatched the idea of writing a standard warrant article petition, making a website to share information and resources, and providing weekly updates so anyone concerned about climate change would have everything they needed to put an article requesting carbon cash-back legislation at the state and federal level on their town’s warrant.

We named our effort the Carbon Cash-Back Coalition (C3). By the time we were ready, submission deadlines were passing before some C3 town champions even had a chance to get started. Volunteers in 82 New Hampshire towns joined for their town, including a high school sophomore in Bow, a retiree in Peterborough and a mom in Londonderry. Thirty-eight of them collected the necessary signatures and submitted them on time.

Where does the C3 go from here? Towns will be voting through May, and cities have a different process and schedule. The board of selectmen or town council of towns that passed the article will notify their state representatives, Gov. Sununu, their members of Congress and President Trump of their town’s request for cash-back carbon pricing legislation. We have a goal of getting on 200 town warrants next year. Other states are interested too.

Where do we citizens go from here? Let’s start preparing for a national price on carbon. Switch to LED light bulbs. Have a home energy audit and act on the recommendations. These will save you money and make your home more comfortable, healthy and safe. Are you getting ready to buy a new car or truck? Make good gas mileage part of your criteria. Are you getting ready to replace your furnace or hot water heater? Consider an efficient heat pump. In our house, we are getting ready to replace an old gas stove, and we’re looking at electric ovens with induction cooktops.

These are the kinds of preferences that a price on climate pollution incentivizes. Producers know this, and as soon as there is a carbon price they will be strongly motivated to produce more energy-efficient, less-polluting products because of consumer demand. There will soon be many more options thanks to the powerful invisible hand of an efficient market.

Because we can’t all afford to replace everything all at once and it will take time for producers to offer better options at affordable prices, the cash-back carbon policy price starts low and increases steadily over time. Because all the money collected from the fee charged on fossil fuel production and imports (minus administration costs) is returned to all households equally, anyone can come out ahead simply by having a smaller-than-average carbon footprint. Most households will get more money in their cash-back dividend than they pay in higher prices due to the higher costs of producing and importing fossil fuels during the transition.

The dividend is compensation for harms and costs for which the carbon pollution fee is collected, but it has a lovely co-benefit of protecting family budgets. See how your family will do here.

There were many decisions to make in these New Hampshire towns this year, but the one with the most impact on global pollution and the long-term future of these towns, our state, country, the global community and life on Earth was well made. See for more.

(John Gage is the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s New Hampshire state coordinator.)

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