BOSTON – All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates on Thursday stressed the importance of energy efficiency and promoting clean technology, even as they took slightly different approaches to government’s role.
The candidates – Treasurer Steve Grossman, Attorney General Martha Coakley, biotech executive Joe Avellone, former Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem and former Medicare and Medicaid administrator Don Berwick – met for a forum on clean technology, sponsored by Next Step Living, a company that does home energy assessments, and moderated by Bob Buderi, founder and CEO of Xconomy, an online publication that covers clean technology. Organizers said Republican Charlie Baker was invited but had a scheduling conflict.
Avellone used the event to announce that he will support a carbon tax. “I am advocating for and will push for a carbon tax, a price on carbon that will show the true cost of using fossil fuels and drive large behavioral change, so long as it’s revenue neutral,” Avellone said.
The carbon tax would be revenue neutral with corresponding reductions in personal and corporate income taxes and the creation of low income tax credits.
In an interview, Avellone said he does not think voluntary efforts or loose caps will be enough to hit the state’s goals for reducing carbon emissions. “The one thing that will change behavior is a tax, as long as we make it revenue neutral and we don’t harm the economy,” Avellone said.
The only other candidate to support a carbon tax during the forum was Berwick, who said he supports a carbon tax, a cap and trade system and doubling the state’s investment in clean energy from 0.6 percent of the budget to 1.2 percent. “We need to see the cost of carbon we’re putting in the atmosphere,” Berwick said.
Kayyem, after the event, told The Republican / MassLive.com that she supports a carbon tax as long as it can be done in a revenue neutral way and does not have a disparate impact on car-dependent communities.
Coakley and Grossman were more measured in their responses, when asked about a carbon tax after the event.
Grossman said he is “actively looking at” it. “One of the things I will insist on, however, if we implement a carbon tax… is it needs to protect the low and middle income families,” Grossman said, referring to families earning up to $60,000 a year. “If it’s not done in the right way it can affect those families disproportionately.”
Coakley expressed concern that a carbon tax would disadvantage Massachusetts if other states do not implement a similar tax. “I don’t rule it out, but I’m not sure it’s the only solution,” she said.
Other than a carbon tax, the candidates advocated for a variety of policies to promote energy efficiency and invest in clean technology.
Kayyem pushed for a “green bank,” a public bank that uses financial tools to motivate private investments in green technology companies. For example, the state might become a partner in a loan, thereby lowering risk and interest rates.
Kayyem pledged to have a person in her office focused on adapting the state to climate change. “There’s too many state agencies involved,” Kayyem said. “Someone needs to own it. I will own it because I know what the consequences are, not just for you and your industry but for me and rising waters and the warmer earth.”
Grossman said while he was treasurer, Massachusetts became the first state to sell green bonds. He also worked on a state effort to retrofit public buildings. As governor, he pledged to spend 1 percent of the state budget on environmental protection – a level of spending last seen in 2001. “We have cut our funding again and again for environmental protection these last few years,” Grossman said. “One percent is not too much to ask when we’re talking about environmental protection, job creation and our economic future.”
Grossman said the state should build offshore wind generation facilities, such as Cape Wind. He would appoint a state liaison to help cities and towns retrofit public buildings for energy efficiency.
Berwick said the state should focus on increasing the production of offshore wind and solar energy, importing hydro energy and developing electric cars. Berwick said the state should invest in energy efficient technology in public housing, and should look for ways to encourage voluntary adherence to energy efficient building codes.
Coakley said the state must provide tax incentives and capital to help start-ups and other companies working in green technology. “The governor can be a bully pulpit but also has to keep in mind the legislation and other incentives we have for those businesses,” Coakley said.
Coakley said the state has a role in making the market more competitive for wind, solar and hydro power and in incentivizing individuals to use energy efficient technology.
Avellone said the state must work with community colleges, state colleges and vocational colleges to ensure people have the skills to work in industries such as wind energy and precision manufacturing.
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