Gov. Ned Lamont

Gov. Ned Lamont championed two of his more contentious legislative proposals Wednesday, calling a multi-state carbon agreement on gas prices and highway user fee for tractor trailer trucks “controversial” but “important.” 

The governor appeared with Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes to highlight the administration’s environmental initiatives included in his budget proposal last week. This year’s agenda will include a proposal to help communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change plan projects to boost their resilience. 

However, Dykes said money spent on trying to curb climate change goes a lot further than money spent trying to brace for its impacts.

“Every dollar that we invest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions saves a multiplier of dollars that we can avoid having to spend on resilience,” she said. “It is the most cost-effective thing we can do, to reduce the emissions.”

In December, Lamont announced his plan to join Massachusetts and Rhode Island in an agreement requiring fuel suppliers to buy permits for the pollution that results from the fuel they sell. The goal is to cut carbon emissions and raise revenue, some of which must be spent on a cleaner transportation system. 

If the legislature approves the plan and it goes into effect in 2023, fuel suppliers are expected to pass the extra cost to consumers. They have framed the issue as an additional fuel tax and there have been varying estimates of how much the initiative will impact gas prices at the pump. 

Citing “extensive modelling,” Dykes said her agency expected the initiative to cause a 5 cent boost in gas prices in 2023. That increase will rise to about 10 cents per gallon by 2032, she said.

Dykes and Lamont said the proposal contains a “cost-containment” mechanism, which would allow the administration to adjust the impact on consumers if they found that it had caused gas prices to rise by 9 cents per gallon.

Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes

“It will generate a billion dollars of investment that far exceed the consumer price impact as well as public health benefits and economic development benefits,” Dykes said. “The cost of not acting on climate change will far, far exceed the cost of this program.”

Last week, Chris Herb, president of Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, released a statement saying the initiative would amount to a tax on consumers, regardless of how the administration tried to shape the issue. 

“We are urging state lawmakers to think twice about adding more hardship on low and middle-income families already finding it difficult to pay the bills and keep food on the table,” Herb said. 

Lamont also took the opportunity during Wednesday’s environmental press conference to defend another of his proposals that has met resistance. In an effort to keep the state’s Special Transportation Fund solvent, the governor has recommended a new highway milage-based user fee for tractor trailer trucks. His budget estimates the fee to raise about $90 million but allow the state to leverage around $1 billion in projects over the next five years. 

“I know, these are a little controversial and they require some work to explain to people how important it is,” Lamont said. 

The Motor Transport Association of Connecticut last week opposed the idea, accusing Lamont of “once again” putting the state’s transportation financial burdens on the backs of truckers. Last year, after failing to amass support for a plan to install tolls on Connecticut highways, Lamont proposed a truck only toll. He later abandoned the proposal after finding little support for it in the legislature. 

On Wednesday, Lamont dismissed as “nonsense” the idea that drivers and truckers may avoid Connecticut roadways in an effort to avoid new user fees or high gas prices. He said drivers would need to travel through states with even higher fees to avoid Connecticut. 

“You’re paying for that the whole way up the East Coast, it’s only when you get to Connecticut that everybody gets a free ride except for the poor taxpayers of our state,” he said.