HARTFORD – The Democratic co-chairs of the Labor and Public Employees Committee are looking to move the goalposts for reducing greenhouse gas emissions further than Gov. Ned Lamont.
The proposal is part of a bill that’s dubbed a “Green New Deal.” The bill that received a public hearing Tuesday calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be lowered by 80% by 2050. Lamont had called for a 45% reduction by 2030.
Some advocates and lawmakers don’t believe Lamont’s initiative goes far enough in addressing the “crisis we face,” said John Humphries, executive director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs.
However, it’s not exactly clear why the Labor and Public Employees Committee would be taking up this legislation, which seems more appropriate for the Energy and Technology Committee.
“Everything that goes on in this state is a labor issue, and that’s because everybody who works in this state is part of the community,” Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said. “Everything we do affects all of the workers in Connecticut, and so moving to a green economy, a green deal is really critically important. Not just for those looking for future work but also for those working today.”
Like the federal Green New Deal proposal, the Connecticut legislation seeks to address climate change and economic inequality.
The Connecticut bill calls for an assessment of the latest scientific information and relevant data regarding global climate change and the status of greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts in other states and countries. With this information in hand, the legislation calls for lawmakers to initiate a plan to cut carbon emissions and transition Connecticut toward a clean energy economy with good-paying green jobs.
Many who spoke Tuesday in favor of the legislation said that Connecticut’s current energy policies disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities. The bill proposes the creation of an Environmental Equity Working Group to identify disadvantaged communities for pollution reduction.
“Air pollution and climate change affect the most vulnerable communities,” said Natalie Ochoa, a senior at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.
The bill would require 40% of the benefits of any new policies to be directed to disadvantaged communities, and 40% of energy efficiency funds be spent on low- and moderate-income households.
The bill also includes a proposal to re-train and educate current energy workers like those in power plants, or even those more loosely attached to carbon-producing industries such as auto dealership employees, for “greener” jobs in a new eco-friendly economy.
“This is a critical measure necessary to ensure an equitable transition for employees in energy sector jobs that may be impacted by the law,” said Louis Rosado Burch, Connecticut director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Kushner agreed that Connecticut must be proactive when it comes to anticipating a shift of this magnitude in its work sector.
“We’re going to soon be faced with a crisis where we have to quickly move to new technologies and have to make sure the right workers are there and properly trained,” Kushner said. “We can’t just put people out of work and expect our economy to move forward.”
The bill also contemplates a carbon tax and requires the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) “to determine an amount which accurately reflects the social, environmental, and public health costs associated with each ton of greenhouse gas currently produced,” according to Burch.
Those in opposition at Tuesday’s public hearing argued that renewable energy alone is not capable of providing for the entirety of the state’s energy needs.
“Electric lines cannot accommodate the amount of electricity it would take to put electric vehicles and electric heat pumps in peoples homes,” said Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketing Association, which is an organization of 585 members with 13,000 Connecticut-based employees whose priority is to strengthen and protect the future of the petroleum industry.
Steven Guveyan, executive director of Connecticut’s Petroleum Council, said it would be unreasonable to convert all the ambulances and snowplows into electric vehicles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Herb stressed that homeowners will be forced to pay additional money per gallon of home heating fuel to transition to an all-electric economy.
“Someone’s going to have to pay for this and as I go through the bill not too much is said about cost because nobody really wants to deal with that,” Guveyan added.
Guveyan said this would result in disproportionate costs to fixed- and low-to-medium-income households throughout the state, which he said was a contradiction to one of the bill’s most important goals.
“If power goes out in an all-electronic economy, now we can’t charge our vehicles, can’t get to work, it halts commerce. At least with gasoline and generator backups we could still move about our state to deliver products and goods,” Herb said.
The concerns about the costs required for such a switch, and the inherent susceptibility of an all-electric economy, outweigh the benefit that would be ultimately realized by the bill, according to Herb.