Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The House gave final approval Friday to an expansive bill intended to improve Connecticut’s air quality by adopting more stringent emissions standards, transitioning to electric buses and promoting electric vehicle usage through rebates and additional charging stations.

The bill, called the Connecticut Clean Air Act, passed the House on a 95 to 52 vote after a prolonged floor debate and over the opposition of all House Republicans.

Rep. Roland Lemar, co-chair of the Transportation Committee, said the state’s poor air quality had contributed to Connecticut cities having some of the nation’s worst rates of asthma.

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“We think this represents a monumental shift in the public health, environmental future for the citizens of Connecticut,” Lemar said Friday morning. “This directly addresses what we see on the ground, which is an extraordinary increase in air pollution based on our transportation sector.”

The bill, which was passed by the Senate earlier this week, includes a provision that adopts California’s emission standards on medium and heavy-duty trucks, joining nearby Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. 

“We’ve all decided that since clean air is a priority for us, we were going to go with the California standards, which are more stringent,” said Rep. Joe Gresko, a Stratford Democrat who co-chairs the Environment Committee. 

However, Republicans opposed instituting those standards, saying they would lead to increased costs for shipping companies at a time when inflation rates were already making transportation more expensive. 

“We shouldn’t be adding burdens onto these companies that deliver food, that deliver agricultural goods like eggs, like chickens, like hay. We shouldn’t be adding costs to shipping. Many of us in this chamber use Amazon. Those costs could go up” Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, said. “These costs — they are most certainly passed down to the consumer.”

Other elements of the bill expand the existing CHEAPR rebate programs for electric vehicles and generally require landlords to allow renters to install EV charging stations on the rented property. 

The legislation also includes deadlines for the transition of the state vehicle fleet to electric vehicles beginning with 50% of the fleet by 2026 and the entire fleet by 2030. Meanwhile, local school systems are also required to transition their diesel school buses to electric buses under the bill with all school buses required to be zero emission vehicles by 2040.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the city of New Haven has encountered some difficulties as it has worked to convert its transit buses to electric models and municipalities may encounter similar problems as they begin to comply with the school bus requirement. 

“We are seeing based on temperatures that these buses can’t run a complete route. Some of them can only run up to five hours,” Candelora said. “Those are the kind of details we need to get. It also requires mechanics to be trained, fire suppression systems to be built at the charging stations. It is a massive investment, a massive mandate on our schools.”

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said the concerns about short term costs expressed by Republicans throughout the debate were valid, especially given the current high inflation rates. He said lawmakers also needed to be attentive to the long term cost of inaction on climate change.

“We have a lot of difficult votes we will make in this chamber,” Rojas said. “I would suggest that the vote on this bill is not one of those difficult votes because I’m voting ‘yes’ for our future, my children’s future, my grandchildren’s future as well as all of yours.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont who released a statement Friday night applauding its passage.

“The choice is clear, adopting the California framework and the other great initiatives in this bill will be another important step toward cleaner air and better health outcomes for all residents, particularly those who live in our cities and along our transportation corridors, and also gets us headed back in the right direction on our greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals,” Lamont said.