A bipartisan coalition of 12 states and the District of Columbia released a framework for a policy that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, which sets a cap on the amount of carbon allowed into circulation.

The framework for the policy proposal draft was introduced to the public by the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States on Oct. 1, outlining the organization’s intent to implement a “cap and invest” system, according to the TCI website. The policy would have the government auction off carbon credits to fuel suppliers and subsequently invest the proceeds in further reducing carbon emissions through research into new technologies and working to make states’ transportation systems more sustainable. While critics of the initiative have called the policy a gas tax, TCI officials are quick to differentiate the new framework from the kind of policy that sparked violent riots in France last year.

“The difference between this program and a [gas] tax is that a tax is a price that is set by the government on a product,” said Keri Enright-Kato, director of the Office of Climate Change, Technology and Research in the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “In a cap and invest program, the price of a ton of carbon is instead set based on the market — that’s a much more efficient way to set a price because it will go to the least cost option.”

Still, an increase in gas prices at the pump may be unavoidable when fuel suppliers are paying more for carbon at the top, though the price will likely be influenced by how aggressive or ambitious the cap is, according to Enright-Kato.

Transportation is responsible for 40 percent of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic’s carbon emissions, said former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Robert Klee FES ’99 LAW ’04 GRD ’05. The new program, Klee said, would create a “price signal on the fact that there is a cost to the emissions that we generate from transportation.” He went on to explain that the program would not only fund new transportation initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, but also drive behavior change, influencing a reduction in emissions on an individual level.

In order to address concerns regarding how the new policy may affect various socioeconomic demographics differently, the TCI has included an equity section in the framework, committing its jurisdictions to producing “equitable outcomes.” The policy looks to expand upon low-carbon emission and clean mobility options, specifically for “populations and communities that are currently underserved by the transportation system or disproportionately adversely affected by climate change and transportation pollution.”

With eight Democratic and four Republican governors on board with the initiative, the TCI reflects a bipartisan effort to combat climate change and remain faithful to global efforts like the Paris Climate Pact, despite the lack of federal support.

President of Students for Carbon Dividends Alexander Posner ’19 praised the TCI for its bipartisan effort and focusing on both tackling the climate challenge while also safeguarding economic growth.

“That’s often a tradeoff [that’s] inherent in a lot of climate solutions, so it’s good to see a bipartisan conversation thinking about that important dynamic,” Posner told the News.

While still in the design phase, the policy has a set implementation date in 2022, but according to Enright-Kato, once underway, it will be effective.

“A cap and invest program is guaranteed emission reduction over time,” she said. “Because you have a starting point and a declining cap — a tax does not necessarily decline emissions, because you’re just putting a price on it.”

The policy allows each participating state to apportion auction revenue as they see fit. Enright-Kato told the News that Connecticut will likely take a multifactor approach of apportioning the proceeds based on emissions. While rebates could be a possible use of such revenue, she said that one of the “strong perks” of the program is the ability to reinvest the money into technologies and measures that further reduce emissions, thus reducing the total cost of compliance for the average Connecticut resident.

The coalition is accepting public input on the framework through the TCI’s website throughout the rest of November. In December, the TCI plans to release a draft Memorandum of Understanding to participating states, which will include estimates of the energy and emission implications of different cap levels, in addition to potential costs and benefits of possible programs.

Participating states of the TCI include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, in addition to the District of Columbia.

Anna Gumberg | anna.gumberg@yale.edu