Each year I am alive now has a good chance of being the hottest year on record for the planet. We are experiencing obvious human-caused global warming and climate weirdness while running out of time to take action to avoid the most dire outcomes.
“Connecticut’s transportation sector is the largest source (38%) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the state’s economy, and the largest source of asthma-causing air emissions (67%) generated in our state. The most recent Greenhouse Gas Inventory issued by CT DEEP in August 2021 indicated that GHG emissions from transportation continue to rise, at a time when we need to be on a path to reduce those emissions by one-third during this decade in order to meet the 2030 emissions targets set by the Global Warming Solutions Act; and that legislative action will be needed to ensure these targets are met.” Excerpt from the introduction to joint comment on SB-4 by CT DEEP, CT DOT, & CT Department of Administrative Services, 3/11/2022
Connecticut, like many other states in the US, is struggling with how to respond to the climate emergency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Progress was made on electricity production, with the existing multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Connecticut’s electric supply is now 30.5% renewable, increasing yearly according to the RGGI program.
Where we have not made progress is the transportation sector. People driving further and more often is caused by rural sprawl and interstate highway widening, burning more fossil fuels. The recent trend of increased sales of large personal pickup trucks and SUVs wiped out decades of efficiency gains for fossil-fueled engines. The small percentage of battery-electric vehicles on the road has not been able to mitigate the increases in driving and popularity of inefficient larger vehicles. Electric vehicles represent a growing percentage of annual sales for light-duty vehicles, but only 0.73% of vehicles on Connecticut roads are battery-electric, compared to 2.73% in California.
Instead of driving down transportation emissions, that sector has been emitting even more. After the cap-and-invest Transportation & Climate Initiative bill stalled in 2021, the state legislature’s Transportation & Environment Committees are this year proposing Senate Bill 4, a clean-air and climate-action bill. With 56 legislative co-sponsors as of March 25, the bill has momentum. The public hearing for the bill on March 11 was overwhelmingly in support, with several recommendations for improvement already incorporated into the bill’s next version. This bill touches on many aspects of the transportation sector, from updating traffic lights, to e-bike vouchers, and electrifying school buses. That makes sense considering the magnitude of transportation sector emissions and the urgency of systemic change to begin reducing them.
Several of the programs proposed are funded with state bonding. What funds Connecticut does bond will be matched by several federal transit, rail, and emissions reduction programs. This is a different approach than the cap-and-invest Transportation and Climate Initiative bill that failed to move forward in 2021. That cap-and-invest bill would have funded similar emissions reductions efforts from the revenue of an annual auction of gasoline and diesel fuel credits to fuel wholesalers. One can argue that one approach is better than the other. It is hard to argue against taking immediate and significant action to reduce transportation sector emissions while investing in the state’s future.
SB-4 advocates, local bike shops, e-bike riders and the e-bike curious, local leaders, environmental organizations, and state legislators will be meeting on Wednesday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. outside the CT State Capitol building for e-bike test rides around Bushnell Park. Electric-assist bikes are gaining in popularity and outpaced the sale of battery-electric cars in 2021. E-bikes have a much smaller lifecycle and raw material footprint than EV cars and don’t require special charging infrastructure. The lower entry cost of an e-bike brings clean, no-sweat EV mobility to low- and middle-income households that might not be able to afford an EV car. Studies of existing e-bike riders show that they replace car trips and commutes, reducing polluting emissions and enabling more car-light and car-free households.
It is exciting to see SB-4 taking transit, zero-emission school buses, medium & heavy duty vehicles, and e-bikes into holistic consideration in the 2022 legislative session. We don’t have another year to wait.
SB 4’s joint favorable language draft was passed out of the Transportation Committee March 24. The language may be updated again before coming to a vote on the floor.
Here are some details from SB 4:
- State of Connecticut cars and light-duty trucks: 50% of purchased vehicles be battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) in 2026 and 100% EV purchases by 2030
- No change from prior law: 30% of State of CT transit bus fleet to be zero-emission by 2030
- The state shall purchase no new diesel-fueled transit buses after Jan. 2024
- If State of CT does not meet legislated targets for battery-electric and zero-emissions vehicle purchases as of Jan. 2026, a report is required on why and how to get back on track.
- There is a detailed section requiring condo associations to allow unit owners to install electric vehicle charging to their unit-assigned parking space.
- The CHEAPR zero-emission vehicle rebate program board shifts to ‘advisory’ and is to add five members, including the Chair of Public Utilities Regulating Authority, an electric vehicle manufacturing representative, a bike/pedestrian advocate, and a bike shop manager or owner. The CHEAPR annual budget, as proposed in the bill would grow from $3 million to approximately $8 million per year funded by the existing greenhouse gas fee on motor vehicle registration. This wouldn’t raise that fee but would redirect the entirety of fee revenue to CHEAPR rebates, rather than a significant portion being sent to the general fund.
- The CHEAPR language would increase the maximum cap on vehicles getting a rebate to $50,000, and designated that the low- to moderate-income EV car rebate should not be less than $5,000. The bill prioritizes EV rebates for environmental justice communities and low- to moderate-income households below 300% of the federal poverty level.
- The bill clarifies that electric bicycles should be considered to be battery-electric vehicles and proposes a $500 minimum e-bike voucher program to be part of the CHEAPR rebates for low- to moderate-income (LMI) households at less than 300% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the qualifying annual income limit would be $83,250. There would be a maximum cap of $3,000 on the price of the e-bikes eligible for the voucher program.
- The bill would direct 57.5% of the motor vehicle registration fee into a greenhouse gas emissions reduction account and 42.5% of that registration fee into a federal Clean Air Act account. Previously this revenue was split between the Special Transportation Fund and the general fund.
- There is a matching grant program for municipalities modernizing traffic signals to address transit signal priority, reducing congestion and idling.
- The bill would create a medium- and heavy-duty zero-emissions vehicle voucher account and administer a program awarding vouchers for EV or hydrogen-fueled trucks and investing in charging stations administered by CT DEEP. The account would start with $15 million for fiscal-year 2022-23.
- The bill would require all school buses in environmental justice communities to be zero-emissions by Jan. 2030, and all school buses in the state to be zero-emissions by Jan. 2035. This mandate would be paired with a grant fund administered by CT DEEP to help municipalities, school districts, and school bus operators to match federal funds for zero-emissions buses and charging stations.
- Not later than July 2024 the CT DEEP and CT DOT commissioners would set a transportation greenhouse gas emissions budget for the state that considers the existing state law and targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. CT DOT would set policies and regulations such that transportation projects undertaken by the state, regional entities, and municipalities adhere to that transportation carbon budget.