Our transportation systems, how we get around from A to B to C, are putting the planet in a dangerous slide toward climate catastrophe. This isn’t hyperbole. It would have been better to start working toward a solution decades ago, when the terrible reality of human-caused climate change became evident. That said, we can’t waste another year without action.
The transportation sector in Connecticut generates 38% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the largest emitting sector by far and similar to other states in the region. If there were not proven, equitable, and effective ways to address those emissions, I wouldn’t be bothering to write this article.
Let us look to what we can control and have some influence on, Connecticut and our neighboring states. The regional electric generating sector has over a decade’s worth of experience in the shift away from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. The multi-state coalition of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states collaborating on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have used a cap-and-invest system to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our region’s electricity-generating industry.
That innovative effort demonstrated a 45% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions when comparing the most recent 3-year period in 2015 to 2017 to the starting point in 2006 to 2008. That is tremendous progress. The revenue from the electric generating emissions auctions has been used in participating states to invest in energy efficiency in homes and businesses while accelerating the buildout of renewable energy sources.
One might ask, “Could that type of cap-and-invest approach modernize our transportation system, invest in crumbling infrastructure, reduce waste, and zero out greenhouse gas emissions for the region’s transportation sector?” Great question! That approach is being proposed right now as the Transportation and Climate Initiative.
The program will set a cap on the allowable greenhouse gas emissions each year from transportation fuels, gasoline and diesel, sold in the participating states. The fuel wholesalers will buy those credits each year at an auction, allowing them to sell fuel in each state. The cap will decline steadily over 10 years to the target greenhouse gas emission reduction level, somewhere between a 20% to 45% decrease from the program’s starting point.
The proceeds will go into electric vehicle purchase rebates, bus transit system improvements and expansion, connected bike routes, and upgrades to our state’s rail system. Urban, suburban, and rural residents will all benefit from the modernization of our infrastructure and steady weaning away from polluting fossil fuels.
Beyond the critical goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the co-benefits are abundant for investing in a sustainable transportation system with more transit and electrified vehicles:
• Tailpipe emissions, most concentrated and damaging in urban neighborhoods and near interstates, will drop, lowering asthma and respiratory issues.
• Transportation options will grow as transit schedules improve and routes expand.
• Cities and town centers will see increasing investment in vibrant transit-oriented development and infill of vacant lots, adding to our local economies.
• Safe and connected bike routes in Connecticut cities will serve the needs of low-car ownership neighborhoods while also providing bike commuting routes for those coming into cities from neighboring towns.
The benefits of investing in a sustainable and healthy transportation system even make sense without the dire predictions of climate crisis. Two thirds of surveyed Connecticut voters voiced support for a cap-and-invest program with the goal of reducing climate changing emissions while investing in a sustainable transportation network in the state and across our larger region. A clear majority of rural residents surveyed across the region also support cleaner and more efficient transportation.
Ever-expanding interstates will not solve our congestion problems, and they certainly won’t reduce our state’s greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve got one chance to do this right and stay on track. Ineffective programs, misinvestment, and years of continued inaction must not continue.
Right now, a coalition of Connecticut organizations, businesses, and individuals are reminding Gov. Ned Lamont that Connecticut is part of a larger, fragile planet and that he has an important role to play in 2020 to move the Transportation and Climate Initiative forward. Connecticut, a small state, is the crossroads of the region and a key participant in that multi-state coalition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while investing in the region’s future.
Now that you know a little bit more about the Transportation and Climate Initiative, I hope that you will make your voice heard. Public input on the framework for the multi-state agreement is due by Feb. 28.
Anthony Cherolis is a former aerospace engineer, BiCi Co. founder, a Hartford resident, and the Transport Hartford Coordinator at the Center for Latino Progress. He also writes at All Famous Together
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