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Wins And Losses: How Environmental Bills Fared This Session

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public

The recently completed legislative session notched a number of wins -- but also some losses -- for environmentalists. Advocates hailed improvements to Connecticut’s “bottle bill” but expressed disappointment with lawmakers’ failure to sign on to a multistate program aimed at reducing vehicle emissions.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) was one of Gov. Ned Lamont’s signature environmental policies going into this legislative session. 

The multistate program was designed to place a declining cap on emissions from gas and on-road diesel fuel, while requiring wholesalers to purchase “allowances” to cover those emissions. Money raised would be reinvested into Connecticut communities and transportation projects. 

Advocates said TCI would reduce on-road carbon dioxide emissions by about one-quarter whileraising $1 billion by 2032

But opponents framed the idea as a “gas tax,” clinging to language from TCI supporters that said the measure would likely raise gas prices by at least 5 cents per gallon beginning in 2023. 

“It is not a tax. It is a cap on climate emissions. And that is the whole goal of this program,” said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, which advocated for TCI’s passage. “It generates revenue from the industries that are benefiting from the sale of fossil fuels.”

“Fifty percent of that would be reinvested into communities that were either overburdened by pollution,” Brown said, “or to communities that are the most underserved by our current transportation system.”

But the “tax” idea seemed to stick. And the bill was ultimately nixed in the late days of the session from Lamont’s proposed budget. 

“Not passing TCI in the regular session was a big mistake,” said Amy McLean, state director for the Acadia Center, which advocated for TCI. “That is the priority that we need to address in the special session.”

Lamont said on Thursday that he’d like to see TCI come before legislators in a special session scheduled for the coming days, but it’s unclear whether the bill will be revived by legislative leadership that has expressed varying degrees of support and caution for the idea. 

“If you care about the environment and you want to discourage big tractor-trailer trucks and cars from doing more and more driving on our roads,” Lamont said, “I think that’s something we’d like to look at.”

Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Connecticut will not be able to meet legislatively mandated pollution-reduction goals, “unless we have a tool that’s impactful as … TCI to help us significantly reduce emissions.”

But Dykes acknowledged the difficulties of mustering support for action on climate change in Connecticut. 

“Sometimes people think of this as a far-off issue that we’ll deal with tomorrow,” Dykes said. “It is so urgent to make these changes.”

Bottle Bill Hailed As ‘Long Overdue’ Legislative Achievement 

If TCI was a big disappointment, upgrades to the state’s “bottle bill” are being hailed as a big win by environmentalists. 

The bill, S.B. 1037, passed by lawmakers will raise the refundable deposit on certain beverage containers from 5 to 10 cents beginning in January 2024. It expands refundable deposits to include noncarbonated beverages like juices, teas and sports drinks while also increasing the number of spots to recycle such containers. 

“In other words, opening stand-alone redemption centers in more areas. As well as requiring large chain retailers to install bottle machines in places like CVS and Family Dollar,” said Lou Rosado Burch, Connecticut program director with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which advocated for the bill.

“The idea is to significantly expand the number of convenient options that people have to get their deposit back,” Burch said. “So that’s a huge win … the legislature passed some long overdue updates to the bottle bill.”

The bill will also gradually decrease the amount of unclaimed bottle deposits that are remitted back to the state’s General Fund.

But Burch said the bill isn’t perfect. He noted updates to the bottle bill do not include a deposit on liquor nips. Instead, lawmakers opted for a nonrefundable 5-cent surcharge on those containers. 

Lawmakers said that money would be sent back to communities for litter control. But Burch said that idea might not work as intended.

“We view this as, essentially, a sin tax,” Burch said. “Without [a] refundable deposit on nips, there’s nothing to guarantee that those little bottles we see everywhere will actually get picked up and recycled.”

Legislature Takes Action On Energy Efficiency And PFAS, But Passes On Direct Electric Vehicle Sales

Other measures passed by the legislature include a bill that will establish a retrofit program for residents of affordable and low-income housing. Advocates say the measure will pave the way for an array of efficiency options such as weatherization and the installation of rooftop solar. 

The bill, S.B. 356, will also target health hazards in homes like asbestos, lead, radon, gas leaks and mold.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that will restrict some uses of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of man-made chemicals tied to a variety of health risks in humans. 

The measure, S.B. 837, bans PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam used for training, institutes a takeback program for fire departments that have such foam, and restricts PFAS from being used in food packaging sold or distributed within the state no later than January 2024.

One final measure that did not make it to the finish line this year was a bill allowing for the direct sale of certain electric vehicles in the state.

S.B. 127 would have allowed for certain licensed motor vehicle manufacturers, like Tesla, to sell their vehicles directly to consumers without the need for dealerships. The measure made it out of committee but not past the legislature. 

Bills allowing direct-to-consumer electric vehicles sales have failed several times during previous legislative sessions, forcing some consumers to drive out of state to make certain car purchases. 

On Thursday, Gov. Lamont said he thinks companies like Tesla should be able to sell directly to consumers. 

“It’s come up before. It’ll come up again, and eventually, I think it will pass,” Lamont said. “I think they should be able to sell.”

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.