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Lamont administration lays out legislative agenda on climate change

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes and Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday laid out the administration's climate change agenda, discussing the three pieces of climate legislation the governor has submitted and saying the proposals will prioritize vulnerable communities.

An Act Reducing Transportation-Related Carbon Emissions would have Connecticut join the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative Program, which caps carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, requires wholesale fuel suppliers to purchase "allowances" at auction to cover those emissions, and invests the proceeds in transportation projects and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This mechanism is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% from 2023 to 2032. Dykes said that through "extensive modeling of the TCI program and its impact on consumer prices," she expects an increase of 5 cents per gallon in 2023, and there's a cost containment mechanism if the impact reaches 9 cents per gallon.

"We control that, because we could issue more credits that keeps it at 5 cents and not more than 5 cents," Lamont said. He noted that this is at the wholesale level, so it's up to wholesalers whether they want to cut their margins or pass costs along to retailers.

"I like the fact that I'm doing it with my fellow governors in the region here, so I know we keep our competitive position intact," Lamont said. Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have also signed onto the program, and other states can join.

An Act Concerning Climate Change Mitigation and Home Energy Affordability would require the state's electricity supply to be zero-carbon by 2040. If passed, this bill would codify into law an executive order Lamont issued in 2019.

Dykes said about 65% of the electricity that United Illuminating and Eversource customers use is from renewables and nuclear resources, so she thinks this goal is "feasible and achievable."

This bill would also require property owners to provide prospective renters or buyers a Home Energy Label or energy costs for the most recent 12 months of occupation of the unit.

Citing the "incredibly onerous burden" of heating costs for some, Lamont called this the "right choice from your pocketbook and right choice from an environmental point of view."

An Act Concerning Climate Change Adaptation would allow municipalities to establish a buyer's fee on property sales — between 0.5% and 1.5% — and put the money toward the purchase or preservation of open space, matching state investments, or funding other environmental projects, such as planting trees.

The legislation would create an Environmental Infrastructure Fund within the Connecticut Green Bank, which Dykes said is about attracting more private dollars not only for green energy projects but also for climate resilience projects.

She said the public hearing for these bills will likely be the beginning or middle of next month.

"The wakeup call was (Hurricane) Sandy, and I saw what coastal flooding can do to our communities, can do to our homes, can do to our electric grid," Lamont said. He said he wants to equip municipalities to plan ahead to prevent against devastating flooding.

Explaining the necessity of action, Dykes pointed to the "really sobering" findings of the phase one report from the Governor's Council on Climate Change, released in January. The report noted that the average sea level in Long Island Sound could rise 20 inches by 2050, and that average temperatures in the state could increase by 5 degrees.

"We have an existential crisis on our hands, and any discussion we should be having at this point shouldn't be about whether or not we should act, but about how quickly," said Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the Environment Committee. She said if we don't act now, "houses will literally be falling into the sea, whole neighborhoods will cease to exist."

e.moser@theday.com

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