Anastasia Hufham, Contributing Photographer

On Wednesday, supporters of the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program met on the New Haven Green to counterprotest a “Stop the Gas Tax Rally” in East Haven. The transportation activists from the greater New Haven area rode bikes to the rally to demonstrate a sustainable, emissions-free alternative to motorized vehicles.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative Program is a collaborative governmental effort across state lines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do so, jurisdictions participating in TCI-P will “cap” carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle fuel, like gasoline and diesel, by requiring fuel companies to purchase “allowances” through an auction process for the emissions produced by the fuel under the cap. The cap is slated to decline over time to ensure a decline in greenhouse gas emissions linked to motor vehicles. 

Senate Republicans and other opponents of TCI-P protested Connecticut’s potential involvement in the program by organizing a “Stop the Gas Tax Rally” on Wednesday at Forbes Premium Fuel in East Haven. Transportation activists attended the event to counterprotest, meaning to advocate for TCI-P within the rally against TCI-P and its effect on gas prices. 

“It’s really important that this initiative passes,” Will Kurtz, a New Haven English teacher, told the News before counterprotesting on Wednesday. “We really need to reduce fossil fuel usage, and unfortunately, one of the ways to discourage that is you have to make it more expensive.”

Transportation emissions make up 38 percent of emissions in Connecticut, according to data from TCI-P. The Governor’s Council on Climate Change reported that, in order to meet state climate goals, transportation emissions must be reduced to 29 percent below 2014 levels by 2030. 

Doug Hausladen ’04, executive director of New Haven’s parking authority, told the News that he remembers sprinting from Davenport to Science Hill on Elm Street during his college years. Now, he is now an enthusiastic cyclist supportive of “anything that’s going to curb carbon-based mobility forms.” 

“[A bicycle] is the most efficient form of mobility in the world so far, even more than your feet,” Hausladen said. “A bowl of oatmeal can get you 30 miles.”

For Hausladen, one of the most attractive features of TCI-P is the redirection of funds into more environmentally friendly transportation alternatives. The revenue generated by selling allowances to fuel companies — estimated at $89 million in 2023, if TCI-P is implemented — will fund other strategies to reduce transportation-linked emissions and pollution throughout Connecticut.

In December 2020, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed a Memorandum of Understanding stating an intention to implement TCI-P in the state. The memorandum also states that a portion of annual program revenue must go toward assisting “communities overburdened by transportation pollution and underserved by the current transportation system.” This aspect of TCI-P would be overseen by an Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Board composed of community residents and other stakeholders.

In February, Gov. Lamont proposed Senate Bill 884, which would practically implement TCI-P in the state. But Connecticut Senate Republicans are zeroing in on how fuel companies, who will have to purchase allowances that cover their emissions, will raise gas prices as a result.

“Not only will that hurt middle class wallets at the pump, but it will cause prices on all necessities shipped throughout our state — from groceries to home heating oil — to increase too,” the Connecticut Senate Republicans website states. “The entire premise of the Democrats’ plan is to raise the price of gasoline to the point where people can no longer afford to buy and operate gasoline and diesel vehicles.”

On Thursday, the News received a statement from Senate Republican Minority Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford): “We all want cleaner air for Connecticut residents. But the TCI gas tax is a false promise to improve our environment. A new gas tax will not result in cleaner air. Rather it creates a new financial burden that will hit low income residents the hardest.”

However, Wallingford resident Ben Martin told the News that gas prices do not necessarily have to rise for consumers.

“The people that are protesting against the gas tax are being lied to,” he told the News. “There is no reason that the fuel suppliers have to pass the cost down to the customers. They could just absorb that money as the cost of doing business and charge the same price for gas.”

TCI-P modeling projects estimate that gas prices would rise 5 cents per gallon in 2023 and up to 10 cents per gallon by 2032 if Connecticut implements the program.

As far as other economic impacts, TCI-P researchers predict that the program will raise more than $1 billion in the next decade to put towards greener transportation options and create new jobs for Connecticut residents. Such projects could include converting fuel-using public transit to electric, bicycle lane and sidewalk improvements, electric vehicle charging stations, expanding broadband access and more. 

“It’s not that we don’t need the [green] infrastructure — we do,” Martin said. “It’s not that the state doesn’t need the money — the state does need the money. And it’s not that this wouldn’t help people — this would help people. The only argument being made [by opponents] is that it’s going to raise your gas prices.”

Those that signed the Memorandum of Understanding to work on developing TCI-P in their respective jurisdictions include Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. 

Update, Sept. 16: This story has been updated with Kelly’s comment on TCI.

Anastasia Hufham reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she is a junior in Saybrook College majoring in Ethics, Politics & Economics.