With the final passage of a “Connecticut Clean Air Law‘, the House hailed a productive session to tackle climate change and clean energy, a comeback for environmentalists after years of failure and frustration.
The victories come from a confluence of events, including automakers setting a timeline for all-electric product lines and a Biden administration leaning toward that goal with a federal-to-state funding stream for clean transportation.
“These are competitive grant dollars, and they require matching funds,” said State Senator Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the environment committee. “So what are we going to do? We have to put our heads together. And that’s kind of how it was born and really asked us to get creative.
Proponents say this year’s victories can be attributed to last year’s defeat of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a relatively esoteric cap and investment measure backed by Governor Ned Lamont’s administration.
The defeat spurred activists to be better organized and more aggressive, fueled lawmakers’ desire for a belated victory on climate change, and delivered hard lessons on messaging, not the least of which was the need to give back. greenhouse gas emissions relevant to a wider audience. .
“I think there’s no doubt that the reason we have such momentum this year on climate is because of what happened with TCI last year,” said Lori Brown, executive director of League of Conservation Voters.
Opponents of TCI successfully characterized the policy as a de facto gas tax whose immediate costs to consumers outweighed the potential benefits to a state struggling to meet air quality goals set there. is over ten years old.
This year, Democrats were unfazed by nearly unanimous Republican opposition to Senate Bill 4, the Clean Air Act. In an election year, every Democrat in the Senate and House voted yes.
Three other environmental bills passed with bipartisan support this week.
Senate Bill 10which sets a 2040 zero-carbon goal for all electricity supplied to Connecticut customers, the Senate unanimously authorized.
Senate Bill 176 makes solar power more attractive to small businesses and low to moderate income communities.
Senate Bill 93 increases access to cheap financing for commercial properties for zero-emission fueling and climate resilience improvements.
“It’s been a banner week for climate policy in Connecticut,” Brown said.
State Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, co-chair of the transportation committee, said the demand for action is growing.
“The reality that I think helps inform all of our policy choices is what we can no longer deny,” Lemar said. “The climate is changing. There is an increase in the number of catastrophic weather events. There is an increase in the number of hospitalizations due to asthma.
Senate Bill 4 aims to accelerate Connecticut’s adoption of electric vehicles with investments in charging infrastructure, tax rebates for electric bicycles and electric motor vehicles, and shorter timelines for electrification of public transport and school bus fleets.
The transportation sector is responsible for both the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and 67% of emissions of nitrogen oxides, a component of smog that can exacerbate high rates of asthma in children in Hartford and New Haven.
The bill’s sponsors made the strategic decision to broaden the bill’s audience by emphasizing not only the benefits of electric vehicles to combat climate change, but also to improve public health, by particularly the high rates of asthma suffered by children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
“TCI felt abstract and intangible,” said State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, co-chair of the transportation committee. “And in the wake of all the criticism that TCI has received, we sat down together and discussed what people can actually touch and feel that relates to their daily lives – what it’s like to drive behind the school bus or being a kid on that bus, smelling that diesel exhaust.
TCI is a cap and investment program for motor vehicles that essentially puts a price on carbon pollution to incentivize the use of less gasoline and diesel fuel. There is a ceiling on the level of emissions which decreases over time. Gasoline suppliers essentially pay to pollute, and the state would get the money.
Besides the complaint that it would increase the cost of gas, TCI suffered from the perception that its benefits were aimed at privileged commuters eager to see spending on a network of charging facilities for expensive electric vehicles.
“I always felt like when people started talking about the environment, they thought people of color didn’t care and were never included in the conversation,” said Senator Marilyn Moore. , D-Bridgeport, member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
Moore said the pandemic has heightened susceptibility to chronic health threats that make urban children more vulnerable to everything from asthma to COVID-19 complications.
Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, vice chair of the environment committee, said the record and the climate change coalition have changed.
“It really is a multi-racial, multi-generational movement,” Palm said. “Now the days of it being white privilege or hippiedom are long gone. It’s about environmental justice. It’s about asthma. It’s about mental health. And it is run mainly by young people.
Senate Bill 4 drew Republican opposition over concerns the bill would commit Connecticut to technology that may not be ready, particularly the goal of relying on electric school buses by 2030 in ecologically vulnerable communities and 2040 elsewhere.
“It’s going too far, especially with school buses,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford. “I’m afraid the technology isn’t there.”
But he was relatively measured in his opposition, saying he agreed with the bill’s aims and much of its substance.
The bill empowers the Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner to pass regulations implementing California standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks in Connecticut — essentially a timeline to push that fleet to less and eventually zero emissions.
“The choice is clear, passing the California framework and the other major initiatives in this bill will be another important step toward cleaner air and better health outcomes for all residents, especially those who live in our cities and along our transportation corridors, and also gets us back in the right direction on our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets,” Lamont said after his passing.
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New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, among other states, have already adopted the standards.
Rep. Mary Mushsinky, D-Wallingford, a longtime environmental advocate and the longest-serving member of the House, said climate change bills like TCI and the measure passed Friday typically take years to process. mature.
“These are future-changing bills. We are talking about a radical change in transportation technology. And that’s a big step forward. Mushinsky said.
The Lamont administration lost the message war against TCI as it did in 2019 when the governor proposed reinstating highway tolls without immediately justifying what the revenue would buy.
“It was the exact same mistake,” Haskell said. “Everyone was focused on where the money was coming from. No one was talking about where the money was going.
The mistake, he said, was not repeated in 2022.
Mark Pazniokas is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (https://ctmirror.org/ ). Copyright 2022 © The Connecticut Mirror.