With a special session expected in the coming weeks, advocates on both sides of the Transportation and Climate Initiative have ramped up efforts to make their cases on the regional emissions compact.
Gov. Ned Lamont, who signed onto the multi-state agreement last year, stood with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes, on a beach in Milford Tuesday morning for a press conference on carbon emissions. As of 2018, economy-wide emissions ticked up over the previous year, according to a new report from DEEP. The state no longer expects to meet its required greenhouse gas reductions.
“We see more vehicle miles being traveled. More driving and driving of internal combustion engine vehicles, of course, are contributing to emissions,” Dykes said. “Since that time, we haven’t really invested in things that give me confidence we’re going to see those numbers come down.”
Although Lamont made Connecticut a founding state of the agreement aimed at curbing emissions — along with Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. — he needed approval from the legislature and so far he’s been unsuccessful in securing it. Despite a push from the administration and environmental advocates, legislative leaders in both chambers have declined to raise the proposal for a vote.
There has been skepticism of the program from members of both parties. The initiative was designed to mirror the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state “cap-and-invest” program credited with driving a decline in emissions from the power sector.
If approved, TCI would require fuel suppliers to buy permits for the pollution resulting from the fuel they sell and is expected to lead to higher gas prices as fuel sellers pass extra costs to consumers. Opponents quickly labelled the program a new gas tax and rallied against the proposal.
Although no date has yet been announced, the legislature is expected to convene a session before the end of the month and on Friday, Senate Republicans scheduled additional rallies aimed at heading off efforts to include TCI in the session’s agenda. They cited a poll, released this month by the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, which found opposition to TCI among Connecticut residents.
“This is a money grab, and it ignores that there are better ways to improve clean air without hurting Connecticut families already struggling,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said in a press release. “At a time when a historic influx of federal infrastructure dollars are likely headed toward CT for clean air policies, why are CT Democrats still trying to take more out of your wallet?”
Meanwhile, Senate President Martin Looney has previously voiced concern that the initiative may have a larger impact on the budgets of lower income residents who can not afford fuel efficient or electric vehicles. Last week, the New Haven Democrat said he had recently met with executive agency representatives regarding the program.
“We’ve certainly had some discussions both with DEEP and also [the Department of Transportation] on issues related to TCI but there is no formal resolution yet — or any proposal has come out of that as of yet,” Looney said Thursday.
The initiative may have an easier time in the state House of Representatives. Rep. Joe Gresko, a Stratford Democrat who co-chairs the Environment Committee, said Tuesday he expected it had adequate support among Democrats in his chamber.
“I believe if it came up in the House we would have the votes to pass it based on vote counts we did during the course of the last session,” Gresko said.
The governor told reporters in Milford he had been talking with legislative leaders and also believed there was enough support among lawmakers to pass TCI. He urged opponents to offer their own proposals to address climate change and transportation emissions.
“You want to be in a legislative position? You want to be in a position of leadership? You want to lead, you just can’t say ‘No,’ you have to say ‘I have a better idea.’ Well what is your better idea?” Lamont said. “Crickets.”
Environmental advocates responded to the emissions report by urging lawmakers to pass TCI. In a press release, Nathan Frohling, director of external affairs for the Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, said recent severe weather has demonstrated the urgency of climate change.
“Every day we fail to act means more greenhouse gas emissions, more dramatic climate change, and more severe storms in the future. Acting now to minimize future damage is a moral imperative,” Frohling said. “We call on the legislature to put TCI on the agenda for its upcoming special session and pass it into law without any further delay.”