Unsplash

Connecticut is poised to implement a new initiative to lower the amount of carbon pollution emitted by the transportation sector.

In December, Gov. Ned Lamont joined the executive leaders of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in signing a Memorandum of Understanding for the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program, also known as TCI-P. Now, Lamont and his executive counterparts will look to establish the TCI-P as law in their respective jurisdictions. The program aims to cap the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the New England region and invest in cleaner energy. 

On Tuesday, experts from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — DEEP — and Department of Transportation, or CTDOT, held a virtual town hall to discuss TCI-P and its impact on local residents.

“We have to take urgent action within this decade to make major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, or else these impacts will become uncontrollable,” Katie Dykes, commissioner of DEEP, said during the town hall. “Southern New England can become the nation’s leading hub of new clean transportation systems.”

Joining TCI-P was one of many initial recommendations made by Lamont’s Council on Climate Change, and efforts to pass the measure are being led by DEEP and CTDOT. The initiative has garnered support from a number of key players in the energy and transportation industry, including Ford, Shell and over 100 corporate endorsers. Tuesday’s virtual town hall was hosted by AAA, a nationwide motor club federation, with AAA representatives Alec Slatky and Amy Parmenter posing questions to Dykes and CTDOT Deputy Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.

TCI-P operates by setting a declining cap on the carbon emissions produced by gasoline and on-road diesel vehicles. The cap guarantees at least a 26 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from on-road transportation from 2022 to 2032. Additionally, fuel suppliers are also able to purchase emission “allowances” at quarterly regional auctions that allow the suppliers to cover their emissions over the cap.

The plan was developed by the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which includes a broader coalition of 12 states across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, plus Washington, D.C. Though only four of those jurisdictions have so far committed to TCI-P, Dykes said that success in Connecticut could encourage other states — like New York — to cooperate in the near future.

The initiative’s related state legislation, S.B. 884, has been introduced in the ongoing legislative session and was discussed at a nearly 12-hour public hearing in the state Senate’s Connecticut Environment Committee on Monday. If the Connecticut General Assembly approves Lamont’s proposal to join TCI-P, the program’s measures will take effect in 2022 and 2023.

During the virtual town hall, Dykes emphasized that the program’s models show a net positive impact on the state’s GDP and employment, and can stand to improve residents’ quality of life by reducing the burden of air pollution and making roads safer. The transportation sector is the Nutmeg State’s largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for about 38 percent of total emissions, according to CTDOT. Among those emissions, gasoline and diesel are the largest components, accounting for 92 percent of transportation emissions.

According to Dykes, the emissions can increase the risk of serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage and premature death. Last year, Connecticut led the nation in asthma. A report by the American Lung Association in 2019 ranked Connecticut as the 10th worst ozone-polluted state with all eight Connecticut counties getting a rating of F.

Air pollution also disproportionately affects low-income communities that tend to be located along major transportation corridors, according to Charles Rothenberger. Rothenberger is the climate and energy attorney at Save the Sound, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. 

“I’m thinking of, particularly here, diesel-fueled buses,” Rothenberger said. “That is a very concrete localized source of pollution that tends to impact our poorest communities.” 

The auctions for carbon allowances are projected to generate up to $89 million in 2023. These funds will then be invested into communities to further emission reductions through programs such as walkable trail construction, cyclist and pedestrian safety improvements and electric vehicle infrastructure investments.

At least 35 percent of the funds will also be invested into communities “overburdened by air pollution or underserved by transportation” according to Dykes. 

Models produced by TCI-P proponents indicate that if regulated fuel suppliers were to pass 100 percent of their costs to consumers, retail gas prices would increase by $0.05 per gallon in 2023. Dykes emphasized that the program did not include a strict gas tax as fuel suppliers can implement other strategies for offsetting the costs such as using biodiesel instead of petroleum diesel.

One common concern voiced by residents at the public hearing on Monday was the projected increase in gas prices. Parmenter mentioned how opponents to the initiative have claimed that the program would increase gas prices by as much as $0.17 per gallon. 

Dykes called the $0.17 number “completely false” during the public hearing and said it was generated using outdated modeling that would not be supported by the TCI program. The program also includes a cost containment reserve that would ensure prices do not increase beyond $0.09 per gallon. 

In her testimony during the public hearing, Dykes noted that the TCI-P is similar to the current Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that reduces emissions produced by the state’s electricity sector. In 12 years of the RGGI program and over 50 auctions, Dykes said the cost containment reserve has only been triggered twice. 

According to Rothenberger, Save the Sound is in support of the initiative as he believes it would be an important step forward in tackling transportation emissions.

“I think one can always say we would love it to be more robust,” Rothenberger said. “We would love to have more quicker emissions reductions, but I think we are pleased that this is a pretty solid start to the program.”

According to the CT Mirror, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island account for 73 percent of transportation emissions of New England. 

Sai Rayala | sai.rayala@yale.edu

Isaac Yu | isaac.yu@yale.edu