Rhode Island and CO2 Emissions: A Natural Gas Success Story

Rhode Island legislators are considering a bill that would impose a carbon tax on energy sources, but lost in the shuffle is data showing natural gas is giving Rhode Island one of the lowest per-capita carbon footprints in the nation.

U.S. Energy information Administration data show natural gas is enabling Rhode Island to have one of the smallest carbon footprints in the nation. Natural gas powers 95 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity, compared to 34 percent nationwide. On a per-capita basis, Rhode Island emits the seventh lowest amount of carbon dioxide.

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The ecoRI environmental activist website paints the proposed carbon tax as “a bill to tax fossil fuels.” Extremist activist groups like ecoRI may wish to target fossil fuels by their very nature, but the proposed carbon tax bill is explicitly a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. There is a large difference in the carbon dioxide emissions of competing fossil fuel energy sources. Natural gas power emits approximately half the carbon dioxide as coal power, though both are fossil fuels. A true carbon tax, in Rhode Island or elsewhere, will always impose steeper taxes on more carbon dioxide-intensive coal power than natural gas power. Moreover, a true carbon tax will impose taxation on non-fossil fuel power sources like biomass.

The proposed Rhode Island carbon tax is similar to a ballot initiative Democrats and the environmental left successfully defeated in Washington State last year. Although the Washington ballot initiative would have imposed a steep tax on carbon dioxide emissions, progressives opposed the initiative because most of the revenue from the tax would be returned to state citizens, much of it in the form of tax breaks for low-income Washingtonians. Progressives argued most or all of the tax revenues should grow government revenues and fund renewable energy programs instead.

In Rhode Island, 25 percent of the revenues from the proposed bill would fund renewable energy programs, while the remainder would be returned to Rhode Island businesses and residents.

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