On Earth Day, celebrating a policy that moves beyond slogans
As the country recognizes the 51st Earth Day, and in the midst of generally renewed interest in advancing environmental measures and combating climate change, Gov. Ned Lamont recently took a bold step. He signed onto a regional Transportation and Climate Initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and raising money for transit.
Leaders in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. have also signed onto the measure that calls for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline and on-road diesel fuel. Wholesale fuel suppliers would have to buy so-called “allowances” to cover the cost of pollution from those fuels.
State Sen. Will Haskell of Westport, a Democrat who supports the measure, has said the concept is simple: those who pump pollutants into the air should also have to pay to help alleviate the health problems those pollutants create, as well as to pay to create green infrastructure. Such infrastructure could include investments in mass transit, electric vehicle charging stations, the creation of more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly communities, and transit-oriented development that clusters housing, retail and workspaces close to public transportation.
It is an approach that would, frankly, be better taken at the federal level. But given Republican opposition to such approaches, and the small Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, that won’t be happening anytime soon. For now this approach, building a climate-friendly initiative state by state, is the best alternative available.
The amount of revenue estimated to be generated by the initiative known as TCI is impressive. Advocates say it will produce $1 billion over 10 years. Connecticut alone could stand to gain $89 million in revenue from it in 2023 and as much as $117 million by 2032.
That type of revenue could help ensure a decidedly greener Connecticut, which we believe is a more than worthy goal for which to strive. The fate of TCI in Connecticut now sits with the legislature. There, it has become embroiled in political wrangling with most Republicans opposed to it.
While TCI is widely supported by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, it also has its fierce opponents. Organizations representing commercial trucking and business interests have pushed back against the measure. Because it’s expected to add up to a dime a gallon to the cost of gasoline, critics also say it would create another burden on families already reeling from the impacts of the pandemic.
We agree that critics raise valid concerns, but believe the benefits of TCI outweigh the negatives. The costs of asthma and other health problems caused by pollution should not be underestimated, for example. The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America found the number of people in the U.S. with asthma increased by 28% over a 10-year period ending in 2011. The direct cost of the disease in terms of medications and hospitalizations in the country stood at about $50 billion in 2015, according to the foundation. Adding in the cost of work and school absenteeism pushes that figure even higher.
Republicans and other critics also contend revenue generated by TCI could be raided for purposes other than green infrastructure. The legislature has the means to include language in the TCI bill that would direct revenue to the Special Transportation Fund, protecting it from being diverted for other uses.
In 2018, Connecticut voters approved a constitutional amendment that maintains the STF as a perpetual fund and prohibits the legislature from enacting any law authorizing the spending of STF funds for any purpose other than transportation. The Day in this editorial space long advocated for such an amendment for the very purpose of assuring that funds are not diverted.
We support TCI as a commonsense measure to advance the development of green infrastructure. We praise the governor for signing onto the measure and urge legislators to support it and take the measures necessary to ensure revenue raised by it is dedicated for its intended purposes.
In the best spirit of Earth Day, this measure could help ensure a healthier Connecticut for future generations.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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Lamont’s approach would seem to rule out the hefty tax increases on the rich that his fellow Democrats in the progressive wing of the party have proposed.