While both of us have served as leaders in our respective communities here in Connecticut for decades, we met for the first time in March 2012 to begin a conversation about how to move beyond the false choice of “jobs versus the environment.” And while we certainly do not agree on everything, we have found common ground in our shared concern about the moral imperative to heal the planet while protecting the livelihoods of workers here in our own communities.
Connecticut needs to implement policies that move us from a fossil-fuel-centered economy to one focused on clean and renewable resources like wind, solar, fuel cells and other renewable technologies, building a sustainable economy with good-paying jobs here at home while reducing the threat of climate disruption here and around the world.
One of the current policies that the state uses to help with this transition is the Renewable Portfolio Standard (“RPS”), a requirement that electricity sellers must purchase certain quantities of electricity from renewable sources. Connecticut’s RPS, in combination with similar policies in other New England states, is already driving major investment across the region. These investments create good-paying jobs that we are confident will last far into the future.
Two weeks ago, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (“DEEP”) put forward a bill that would make major changes to the RPS. Although the details of the bill are complicated, the net impact would be a shift away from truly renewable sources in Connecticut and New England and towards large hydroelectric suppliers in Canada. This lessens the local environmental and economic benefits of this important policy. To be sure, there are aspects of this bill that are environmentally friendly. For example, the bill would allow DEEP to sign long-term contracts for wind projects. This provision is particularly urgent because projects need to meet a deadline to qualify for federal tax credits that will reduce the costs to Connecticut ratepayers.
The overall framework of the bill, however, is fundamentally flawed, shifting investment and jobs across the border to Canada while providing substantial economic benefits to the corporations involved in the hydropower projects. The electricity generated by the hydroelectric suppliers is expected to be competitive on the open market and does not need the incentives of the RPS, which are intended to encourage long-term investment in renewables here in Connecticut and New England.
Despite these flaws, the bill’s supporters are attempting to make it law as soon as possible, scheduling votes on the floor of the Senate and House in the coming week. As a result, the process has become even more troubling than the substance. As a part of landmark energy reforms, the legislature required DEEP to study possible changes to the RPS to better carry out its goals. The draft study on this matter was not released until five days after this bill was rolled out, and the study is not scheduled to be finalized until mid-May – almost two months from now. Rather than rushing this bill into law, legislative leaders should allow time for these important policies to be fully debated.
As a state with a strong history of environmental leadership, Connecticut can do better. We oppose having Connecticut’s renewable energy portfolio watered down with Canadian hydropower, and we strenuously object to the process by which these changes are being rushed through the legislative process. Legislators should vote against this legislation in its current form and support only the truly urgent provisions concerning long-term wind energy contracts. The remainder of the bill should be slowed down and subjected to further study and a more robust debate.
After Superstorm Sandy, Connecticut has a glimpse of what climate change holds in store for us. It is our obligation both to ourselves and to the rest of the world to do our part to reduce the greenhouse gasses that cause it. And after five years of the Great Recession, we know that we must create good jobs for ourselves and our neighbors. We can build on the growing consensus among a diverse group of constituencies, including religious communities and organized labor, that we can both create good-paying green jobs and fulfill our moral and spiritual obligations to protect the ecosystems that sustain us. We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors, and our world not to let short-term thinking divert us from what we know we have to do.
Rev. Thomas Carr is the senior minister of the First Baptist Church of West Hartford and co-founder of the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network. John Olsen has served as president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO since 1988. This past year, they have collaborated in creating the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs.