Anastasia Hufham, Contributing Photographer

After a public hearing on Thursday evening, the New Haven Board of Alders’ City Services and Environmental Policy Committee unanimously passed a resolution supporting a progressive Transportation and Climate Initiative package. The program, if approved at the state level, would reduce emissions, lead to greener transportation initiatives and potentially ameliorate public health issues in New Haven.

The resolution now heads to the full Board of Alders and, pending approval, will be sent to the state government to signal New Haven’s support of the program. A multi-jurisdictional effort, the Transportation Climate Initiative Program is a collaborative effort between 13 east coast states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. States participating in the program will impose a “cap” on carbon dioxide emissions from carbon-intensive fuels, like gasoline and diesel, which will decline over time to facilitate a corresponding decline in emissions. The cap requires fuel companies to purchase “allowances” in an auction process for emissions produced by their fuel. The resolution supporting TCI-P aligns with this year’s Board of Alders legislative agenda, which prioritizes policy working toward environmental justice.

“Our city needs cleaner air, more good-paying jobs and state tax reform that takes the burden off of our city residents,” said Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin, who introduced the resolution. “We also need to address the threat of climate change and build better transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, in our city. A progressive transportation climate initiative will help us achieve all of these goals.”

The resolution calls for the Connecticut General Assembly to pass legislation that will enter the state into TCI-P while also creating progressive financial offsets to keep gas, electricity and energy affordable for low-income residents. Sabin referenced an “upside-down tax structure” in Connecticut that requires low-income residents to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than wealthy residents.

By making carbon-intensive fuels more expensive, TCI-P’s market signal to move away from such fuels could impose a financial burden. But alders mentioned several measures that could help offset the burden, including subsidizing electricity bills and increasing the earned income tax credit.

“We have to acknowledge that, to start off, this is going to be another nickel on a gallon of gas,” Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter said. “For some folks that might seem small, but for other folks, that’s a serious burden if it’s coming on top of your daily commute. It’s really wise that the resolution and members of the legislature are looking at ways we can offset that regressive impact on the folks in our community with the least.”

Community members who spoke at Thursday’s public hearing identified reducing transportation emissions as a public health issue as well as an environmental one. Because New Haven is situated between the Merritt Parkway, Interstate 91 and Interstate 95, transportation emissions directly affect the city’s air quality and cause public health problems for residents. The city ranks as the fifth most challenging city for people with asthma to live in the United States, according to this year’s Asthma Capitals report.

Asthma rates in New Haven’s lower-income neighborhoods — Dixwell, Fair Haven, Hill North, Newhallville, West River and West Rock — increased from 20 to 23 percent between 2009 and 2015, with asthma rates higher for female, Black and Latinx residents. As a result, New Haven reports the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in Connecticut: 75 per 10,000 residents compared to the state average of 14 per 10,000 residents.

“The pandemic really underscored issues of respiratory health and how they impact our most vulnerable residents … often Black and brown residents,” Winter said. “We really need to look at systemic changes to address that public health crisis and at the same time address the climate crisis.”  

Aaron Goode, a board member for the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association, voiced frustration with those who cast TCI-P as a gas tax and nothing more.

To him, there already exists a “massive unseen pollution tax” on low-income communities in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven levied by those using nearby interstates.

“Every time suburban motorists drive through New Haven on I-91 or 95, they’re racking up an exorbitant tax bill that they’re not paying,” Goode said. “TCI-P is an attempt to rectify this hidden pollution tax that urban residents are currently paying to subsidize the very pollution that is making our children sick.”

TCI-P researchers have predicted that the program will raise $1 billion over the next decade, which will go toward environmental transportation initiatives like electric buses, crosswalk construction and increased pedestrian infrastructure. Half of that revenue will be funneled into communities that have been historically overburdened by air pollution and underserved by the transportation sector — including New Haven.

The construction of such infrastructure is also expected to create jobs for Connecticut residents. Ward 12 Alder Gerald Antunes and Ward 30 Alder Honda Smith voiced concerns about the actual availability of such jobs, since contractors make final hiring decisions and some jobs require specific levels of education.

In response, Winter pointed out that some TCI-P revenue would specifically help New Haven to implement green transportation initiatives.

“There’s an opportunity for us to steer some of that money towards local businesses that will be employing more of our residents,” he said.

The next steps for the resolution are a first reading before the full Board of Alders, and after a second reading, all alders will vote on the resolution.

Correction, Oct. 8 The story has been updated to reflect that Sabin said there is a need to build better “transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure,” not “transit, like pedestrian infrastructure.” 

ANASTASIA HUFHAM