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Connecticut hustles on climate policy

Oof.

Connecticut, accustomed to buffing its chest medals for leadership in climate-sensitive laws and policies, can no longer be so quick to congratulate itself, according to a recently released Brown University study. What's even worse for the state's green reputation, the study analyzes why that has happened: It points at lobbyists who have persuasively deflected legislators from enacting climate bills and lawmakers who need educating in the science and math of climate change's local impact.

Day Staff Writer Sten Spinella outlined the report "Who's Influencing Connecticut Climate and Clean Energy Politics?" in an article that appeared in print last Sunday. On Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order for a "whole-of-government" effort to play catch up on meeting the state's 2030 emissions reduction goal and preparing the state for climate change. For a governor whose first executive order after taking office was to create a sustainability steering committee and goals, the state's lack of progress must have been embarrassing. For one preparing to run for a second term, especially so.

The very detailed new order would appear to have sprung fully formed, but in fact much of it is based on the report of the Governor's Council on Climate Change of last January. The timing of that report's release, which focused on resiliency, should have made it useful for lawmaking but little came of it during the 2021 session. A centerpiece of the governor's plan, the Transportation Climate Initiative or TCI, was meant to ally Connecticut with neighboring states to address vehicle emissions.  It couldn't survive being characterized as mainly a gas tax. Other measures were opposed by industry lobbies such as Eversource, the CT Petroleum Council and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the Brown study reported.

As they say, you don't want to watch the making of either laws or sausages, but when it comes to the existential threat of climate change, that isn't funny anymore. Environmental advocates count widespread support among Connecticut residents for policies such as those the governor is announcing. This is a shoreline state with an overcrowded interstate highway running through it and a collection of aging industrial centers that have been polluters and now may be unable to earn their keep. Why wouldn't almost everyone living in the state want these problems addressed?

The strategy is leadership by example from every relevant state agency, from the departments of transportation and public health to two newly formed councils focused respectively on the economy and on equity and environmental justice. Targets include the familiar clean transportation, health, green jobs and community resilience, but also new building codes, attention to vulnerable communities living among aging infrastructure, and natural and agricultural lands. The money is supposed to come from expected federal dollars and bonding, although that's just the plan, so far.

A governor should lead, which is what Lamont is doing. But in spite of his fallback preference for executive orders, the legislature needs to get involved immediately, both because time is of the essence and because this is a job they should have shouldered before. The 2022 General Assembly session is short; its main purpose is supposed to be updating the biennial budget for the coming fiscal year.

Climate change will rapidly become the big issue — bigger than pension debt, bigger than deficits, bigger than COVID. I will add that journalists, as well as government and business officials, need to start seeing the climate change factor lurking in virtually every program, development and story.

Connecticut was a national leader from the 1990s through the Dannel Malloy administration years. Legislature leaders must put climate change at the top of their agenda and then tell the lobbyists that it won't benefit their companies long-term if they lose all their customers to a safer, greener place.

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board. 

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