When the smoke from the 2013 legislative session cleared last week, environmental advocates were crying foul over the General Assembly’s decision to raid two energy conservation funds in order to balance the two-year state budget.
In an effort to plug a last-minute budget gap, lawmakers tapped the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Some of the money they swept from the programs was replaced during the final day of the legislative session.
But it’s an old budget trick environmentalists are sick of seeing played out. It was done as recently as former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration and there was hope, with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s attention to the creation of an energy strategy, that it wouldn’t happen this year. But it did.
“It’s extremely disappointing that this fight over funding had to happen at all,” Mark LeBel, energy fellow at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said in a press release. “Dollars invested in these funds are returned to the economy many times over, so it is counterproductive to balance the budget in the short term by taking money from them.”
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said Thursday they were able at the last minute to eliminate the $5 million raid of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the fund in which electric generators buy allowances to emit carbon dioxide. And they were able to decrease the reduction of $24.2 million in funding in the second year of the budget to the Connecticut Energy Finance and Investment Authority, bringing the reduction down to about $19 million.
Barnes said they are anticipating that there will be a surplus on the greenhouse gas account that they will be able to transfer to the the Connecticut Energy Finance and Investment Authority.
“We gave the board flexibility to be able to assign that surplus to CEFIA,” Barnes said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said in the House they were boosting funding to the conservation load management fund with one bill and in the next they’re sweeping those funds into the general budget.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said there was an “intent to deceive” taxpayers and that he believes they will figure it out.
“We’re going to charge people on their electric bills a little bit more, but we’re going to do it because it’s going to go into an energy conservation fund which everybody thinks is important. Oh, by the way we just swept the money for the operating budget,” McKinney said.
Malloy admitted Thursday that sweeping the funds was not “optimal,” but lawmakers left them with fewer choices when they decided not to auction off customers’ electricity bills. The electricity auction was expected to bring in $80 million in one-time revenue. However, it did not gain enough support in the House where more than 50 Democratic lawmakers signed onto an amendment to kill it.
While environmental advocates appreciated the change of heart regarding the greenhouse gas funds, they said the raid on the funding in the first place sets a bad example.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a nine-state effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont all participate in the program. Through the end of 2012 the program had conducted 18 successful auctions, selling a total of 498 million CO2 allowances for $1.1 billion.
William Dornbos, Connecticut director of Environment Northeast, said he’s pleased the last-minute budget implementation language restored the RGGI funding.
“Programs like RGGI and the state’s energy efficiency fund are providing huge economic and environmental benefits to Connecticut,” Dornbos, said. “Connecticut’s support for RGGI is critical to the program’s success and to setting an example for other states that inappropriate diversions should not be tolerated.”