State Invests in Climate Initiative for Cleaner Air

Photo credit: Christine Stuart (courtesy of CTNewsJunkie.com)

If ratified by the Connecticut legislature, the initiative is expected to generate significant revenue for the state’s Special Transportation Fund.

Photo credit: Christine Stuart (courtesy of CTNewsJunkie.com)

By Hugh McQuaid, CTNewsJunkie.com

Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island became the first states to sign on to an ambitious cap-and-invest agreement Monday. The initiative aims to reduce vehicle pollution and is expected to result in higher gas prices in the region.

The three states, as well as the city of Washington, D.C., were the first jurisdictions to agree to the Transportation Climate Initiative. The program looks to cut carbon emissions by 26% through 2032 by requiring fuel suppliers to buy permits for the pollution that results from the fuel they sell. The agreement requires the additional revenue to be invested in projects encouraging a cleaner transportation system.

If fuel suppliers pass the additional cost on to customers, supporters estimate gas prices will rise by 5 cents a gallon when the program comes online in 2023.

If ratified by the Connecticut legislature, the initiative is expected to generate significant revenue for the state’s deficient Special Transportation Fund. Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration estimates it will generate $89 million in its first year and as much as $117 million annually by 2032.

“Connecticut has always taken pride in our leadership role when it comes to climate, and when we can combine that with a stronger economy, fast transit systems, and regional cooperation, that’s a win for all of us,” Lamont said in a press release.

During a Monday news conference announcing the memorandum of understanding between the jurisdictions, Kathleen Theoharide, Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said the three states accounted for 73% of the emissions in the New England region.

But the three states represent a fraction of the 12 states that have been involved with the TCI drafting process. Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, predicted the agreement would become more popular over time. She compared it to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a similar cap-and-invest program which has capped emissions from power plants for the last decade.

“I’m confident that we will see more jurisdictions joining with us, in part because past is prologue here. We’ve seen this with other successful multi-state programs like RGGI. With a core group of states initiating the program and quickly many others joined,” she said.

In Connecticut, the agreement will need to be passed by the legislature to go into effect according to Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the legislature’s Transportation Committee. During a Monday interview, he praised the agreement.

“It’s a way to build out the infrastructure that supports clean transportation. You want to be in a position where you can make it easy for people to switch out of their heavy-pollutant transit options. The transportation sector is the primary culprit in greenhouse gases, asthma, particulate matters that you find on roadways. The way to get away from this and improve public health broadly is to make it easier for folks to get out of their cars,” he said.

The plan will face opposition in the legislature. Republican leaders in both chambers released statements opposing the agreement. Incoming House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-Branford, and incoming Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, both criticized the timing.

“Merry Christmas, Connecticut! On the Monday before Christmas, Gov. Lamont has given a lump of coal to middle-class families,” Kelly said.

“Signing on to a plan that would have people pay more to drive shows a lack of understanding about just how much people are hurting right now,” Candelora said. “Every member of our legislature should think long and hard about how this initiative will impact the wallets of their constituents.”

The Connecticut Energy Marketers Association also opposed the initiative and said it would lead to a “dramatic increase in the price of gasoline.”

“There is no way the gasoline industry could absorb the federal excise tax, the state excise tax, the petroleum gross earnings tax or the new proposed TCI gas tax. But they are hoping that by placing this tax upstream with fuel suppliers, consumers won’t know about, nor understand it, when it finds its way to them at the gas pump,” Chris Herb, president of CEMA, said in a statement.

Lemar said the cost of selling gasoline and diesel fuel has already been “externalized” in many ways for fuel sellers. He said pollution has consequences that are paid for by the rest of society.

“Yeah, I get it. They think they’re being unfairly charged. Well guess what? The product that they’re selling has dramatic impacts on public health across our state and we’ve got to pay for them somehow,” Lemar said.

The agreement also requires that 35% of the additional revenue be invested in underserved communities. The state plans to create an advisory group to identify underserved communities and provide recommendations for investments.

Anthony Cherolis, Transport Hartford coordinator for the Center for Latino Progress, said the equity provisions of the agreement attempt to rectify decades of transportation and housing policies that have seen low-income communities situated in neighborhoods afflicted with high concentrations of pollution.

“It’s making an effort to start repairing those damages and reduce mobility challenges for low-income communities being overburdened where a much higher percentage of their income goes towards transportation and housing than higher income households,” he said.

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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