Gov. Ned Lamont at a press conference at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown (Courtesy of DEEP Facebook broadcast)
Gov. Ned Lamont at a press conference at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown (Courtesy of DEEP Facebook broadcast)

State officials held a press conference Wednesday in front of an electric school bus in Middletown, saying the bus was the type of eco-friendly investment that could be possible under a proposed multi-state carbon agreement on gas prices. 

There was a loose connection between the new bus and the emission-capping agreement expected to raise the price of gas over the next decade if it’s approved by the legislature. 

The price of the electric bus was subsidized by a state grant funded through the Volkswagen Clean Diesel Settlement. But supporters of the Transportation Climate Initiative say the interstate agreement could be key to qualifying for federal funding to, maybe replace more of Connecticut’s thousands of diesel school buses with pricey environmentally sound models. 

“There’s going to be significant federal resources to make sure we can do more projects just like this, as long as we have a recurring revenue stream that allows Connecticut to pay its 20% copay on this,” Gov Ned Lamont said, standing near the bus. “This is not an opportunity we want to miss.”

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

The agreement would see Connecticut join Massachusetts and Rhode Island in requiring fuel suppliers to buy permits for the pollution that results from the fuel they sell. It is aimed at cutting carbon emissions and raising revenue, some of which must be spent on a cleaner transportation system. 

The Lamont administration expects to see a 5 cent hike in gas prices if the initiative kicks in, as planned, in 2023. The expected price impact would scale up to 10 cents over a decade, they say. 

Earlier in March, the legislature’s Environment Committee held a public hearing on the proposal, which saw extensive testimony both for and against the initiative. Fuel station owners have been vocal opponents of entering into the agreement, saying its requirement that they buy permits for carbon emissions amounted to an additional gas tax on consumers. 

“While the goal of lowering emissions is admirable, taxing our way to it will be ineffective and only result in economic pain for low- and middle-income (LMI) families who will not be able to afford to buy an electric vehicle,” Christian Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, said in written testimony to the committee. 

During Wednesday’s press conference, supporters were quick to label any reference to a new tax as “misinformation.” The governor said opponents were throwing up “smoke screens” against the bill.

“Connecticut’s been a leader in the environment. We’re going to continue to be a leader,” Lamont said. “All the nonsense you’ve heard – this can make an enormous difference for our state going forward.”

Sen. Christine Cohen, co-chairwoman of the Environment Committee, said lawmakers on the committee had yet to meet to weigh support for the bill. But she characterized the public hearing testimony as largely supportive. 

“I’m hopeful that resonated with a lot of our colleagues,” Cohen said. 

At least for the moment, widespread use of electric buses seems a distant goal. Don DeVivo, president of DATTCO bus company, said they are several times more expensive than their diesel counterparts with most of the additional costs stemming from their several batteries.

But DeVivo said he expected the cost to drop as the technology becomes more widespread. The bus that served as the backdrop for Wednesday’s press conference was the first of its kind in Connecticut and one of only a few nationwide, he said. 

“Several years ago if you went and bought a 50-inch television you paid $5,000. Now you can go to a big box store and buy one for 349 bucks. I think the same thing is going to happen with this,” he said.

Katie Dykes, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the conversation mirrored similar discussions around the adoption of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a similar cap-and-invest program, which has capped emissions from power plants for the last decade.

By putting that program in place, Connecticut signalled to the power sector that it was moving towards renewable energy sources and the cost of technology like solar panels has come down since then, she said. 

“The next missing link is putting that cap on emissions to tell the whole transportation sector that this is where we’re going,” Dykes said.

Center for Latino Progress logo

EDITOR’S NOTE: Coverage of the 2020 Multimodal and Transit Summit, as well as a follow-up series on related transportation issues, is being partially underwritten by the Transport Hartford Academy at the Center for Latino Progress.

Underwriting is funding for journalism that will be reported and produced independently, without prior review by the funder before publication.