Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Gov. Ned Lamont (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT –  Gov. Ned Lamont declined to offer his commitment to the Transportation and Climate Initiative proposal that would have Connecticut and 11 other states use higher gas prices to fund cleaner transportation.

Asked about the proposal following the Dec. 18 Bond Commission meeting, Lamont said, “We are watching that.”

The plan says that if the region wants to reduce emissions by 25% over 10 years, it will likely have to inflate the cost of gas by as much as 17 cents per gallon. The increase in gas prices is the result of charging fuel and oil distributors for violations of new carbon emission limits in the member states.

The timing of the proposal is not ideal for Lamont. Increasing gas taxes at the same time as he’s trying to get the legislature to approve truck-only tolling could prove difficult for Connecticut’s governor.

“This is a regional effort that our fellow states are watching as well,” Lamont said. “That is nothing that I’ve signed on to at this point.”

Lamont, who has been largely praised for his climate initiatives, isn’t the one who signed up for the TCI. Former Gov. Dannel Malloy signed up for the initiative before Lamont took office.

Technically, Lamont doesn’t have to give the group a definitive answer until later this year.

In the meantime, he will be lobbied by both sides on the issue.

Environmentalists praised the proposal, which is expected to be finalized in the Spring.

“States are leading the way with subnational action on climate,” Acadia Center President Daniel Sosland said. “By working together, this region can achieve globally significant carbon reductions while delivering billions of dollars each year for grants and investments to help every community thrive. From rural towns to the region’s biggest cities, TCI can fund investments to make better transportation options more accessible, affordable, and reliable.”

The funding raised through the initiative would be used to fund things like low-carbon transportation programs and investment in clean, equitable transportation solutions. TCI says at least 40% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.

In 2018, the Connecticut legislature set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by the year 2030 from a 2001 benchmark. This initiative would help Connecticut reach that goal.

However, cap-and-invest programs are still controversial in Connecticut and the region despite the success of similar programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has invested over $3 billion in auction proceeds to help nine states improve energy efficiency and create green jobs.

TCI said in a statement on the draft proposal that preliminary modeling estimates that by 2032, the proposed program could yield monetized annual public health benefits of as much as $10 billion, including over 1,000 fewer premature deaths, and over 1,300 fewer asthma symptoms annually region-wide, among other safety and health benefits. The auction of pollution allowances under the proposal is projected to generate up to nearly $7 billion annually that participating states could invest in solutions to further reduce pollution and to improve transportation choices.

But Lamont isn’t the only governor who seems to be hedging on the initiative.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu pulled his state out of TCI as soon as the initiative was announced on Dec. 17.

“New Hampshire is already taking substantial steps to curb our carbon emissions, and this initiative, if enacted, would institute a new gas tax by up to 17 cents per gallon while only achieving minimal results,” Sununu said in a statement. “This program is a financial boondoggle and the people of New Hampshire will never support it.”

Other organizations from across the region, including the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, wrote an open letter encouraging states to oppose TCI.

“Gas taxes are regressive in nature. The TCI will hurt lower-income and rural residents much more significantly than their higher-income, urban peers,” the open letter explained. “Since motor fuels are economically ‘inelastic,’ the higher costs imposed by the TCI’s fuel tax will have to come out of other areas of household budgets. People already struggling to make ends meet will be forced by their own governments to make painfully difficult choices. Economically speaking, this is bad policy. Morally speaking, it’s just cruel.”

Interested parties are encouraged to offer their input online through Feb. 28, 2020.