TCI Slows Green House Gas Emissions, Air Pollution

By: Sylvia Steinert and Arny DiLaura

These days we debate everything. Once in a while we might consider looking around instead and notice what is actually happening. We are seeing increasing periods of cataclysmic weather, including draughts, wild fires, storms and floods. Climate change threatens Connecticut’s economy, its infrastructure, agriculture, natural resources, and the health of our citizens. The overwhelming consensus is that climate change results from man-made greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere. 

We could dismiss and discredit the science and hope it goes away (and pass the problem on to our children) or we could take collective action before it gets exponentially worse. Even if we repudiate the science, we are still left with the evidence of our own eyes. For example we are seeing 100 year floods every other year.

We can deny or we can get to work: In CT, the transportation sector emits 38% of green house gases (GHG), and 67% of air pollutants. To address this problem, CT joined 12 other states plus the District of Columbia to sign an initial declaration of intent to create the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), an environmental program to reduce these emissions. The TCI builds on the success of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative which implemented a cap-and-trade program designed to reduce emissions from power plants. The TCI is a cap-and-invest program, in which transportation fuel wholesalers will purchase emissions allowances at auction. Proceeds will be invested in innovations which further reduce climate pollution. This is a free-market program that puts a price on pollution, and CT will be among the vanguard of states that place binding limits on pollution.

As always, misinformation abounds, and in this case it involves dismissing this program as just another tax. While it is anticipated that fuel wholesalers will pass along the cost of the pollution allowances, the actual cost at the pump is expected to be about 5 cents per gallon. Contrary to additional misinformation being bandied about, the program is not designed to make gasoline so expensive no one can afford to drive. The goal is to raise revenue – $89 million in the first year, rising to about $ 120 million in 2030 – and use that revenue to invest in programs and technologies which reduce air pollution and GHG. The TCI projects cutting emissions by 26%. There are many potential emission-reducing programs: these include replacing diesel transit and school buses with electric, synchronizing and implementing smart traffic signals to minimize stop and go traffic and time spent idling, building electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and creating rebates for Electric Vehicle purchases. Hyper-focusing on this as a tax obscures the undeniable broader benefits of lower emissions, which will benefit human health such as a reduction in high rate of asthma and other respiratory ailments.

While the program will benefit everyone who breathes, many of the costs of climate change and pollution are disproportionately born. The TCI will require that 50% of investments go to communities that are underserved by transit systems or overburdened by air pollution.

To the reader who is concerned that an additional 5 cents a gallon would tank the CT economy and transform us into Venezuela, we have hard data which should put your mind at ease: the retail price of gas over the past 20 years has fluctuated from under $2 per gallon to over $4. There have been multi-year periods (2011 to 2014) where the price was much higher than the previous or the subsequent periods. The price of gas had no effect whatsoever on the CT macro economy, according to Federal Reserve data.

This program will position CT to attract transit-oriented development money from the Biden Administration. The bottom line is that both the short-and long-term benefits of this program far outweigh the modest costs.

Given the benefits of this program and the closing window for addressing climate change, our state legislators and the Lamont administration need to know how we feel. They are being bombarded with misinformation and propaganda from the fossil fuel industry and Koch-allied entities such as the Yankee Institute. The CT League of Conservation Voters has a great deal of additional information on the TCI as well as guides for reaching out to legislators.

The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.