Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

After a nearly seven-hour debate Tuesday, the Connecticut Senate backed an omnibus bill aimed at reducing transportation pollution through more stringent emission standards on trucks and provisions intended to encourage electric vehicle uptake.

Lawmakers approved the 34-page bill on a 24 to 11 vote after debating it for most of the day. Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, joined all Democrats in supporting the measure. 

Democrats amended the bill on the floor, adding a provision of another bill approved by the Transportation Committee, which allows Connecticut to adopt California emissions standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks.

Sen. Will Haskell, a Westport Democrat who co-chairs the transportation panel, said it was incumbent on the legislature to take steps to reduce climate change and curb asthma rates aggravated by vehicle pollution.

“Emissions from transportation are rising, not falling,” Haskell said early in the debate. “By almost every metric …  we’re moving in the wrong direction and until we act, we let the next generation down. Until we decide to face this problem head-on, we decide each day to pass down a planet that’s slightly or, frankly, substantially worse than the one that we inherited.”

Among other things, the bill requires the state vehicle fleet to be at least 50% electric by 2026, simplifies the installation of charging stations, and expands programs that provide rebates for buying electric vehicles. Other provisions seek to modernize traffic signals in order to reduce vehicle idling and encourage communities to transition to electric school buses.

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Republicans questioned the legislation at length and proposed seven unsuccessful amendments to change the bill. During his closing remarks, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said Connecticut’s air quality is largely impacted by pollution from other states. 

“The air we breathe comes from states to our west. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana. That’s where tomorrow’s air is coming from,” Kelly said, citing environmental protection agency statistics suggesting 90% of southwestern Connecticut ozone levels result from out-of-state pollution.

In a press release, Kelly and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said that while Connecticut residents deserve clean air, the legislation would not achieve that goal due to out-of-state pollution. 

“We could take every truck off the road and it still wouldn’t stop the massive pollution that blows into Connecticut from states to our west,” Kelly and Formica said in a joint statement. “The proposed truck emissions policy would add new costly burdens onto CT’s working- and middle-class families without making a difference in the air we breathe.”

Instead, the Republican lawmakers called on Connecticut’s congressional delegation to push for federal action on clean air. 

Sen. Christine Cohen, a Guilford Democrat who co-chairs the Environment Committee, said every little bit counts.

“While I disagree with the sentiment behind these questions because I fundamentally believe one incremental change can make a world of difference, I can say unequivocally that we join several states in acting,” Cohen said.  

The bill now goes to the House of Representative for consideration.