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'Leadership Has Failed Us,' Disappointment As Lawmakers Pass Over Climate Initiative Once Again

Patrick Skahill
Connecticut Public Radio

Environmental advocates were hopeful a proposal to cap vehicle emissions would be brought up during a special legislative session convened this week. 

But the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) was not expected to be called for a vote in the House Wednesday and was left out of a massive 800-plus-page budget document. 

TCI, a proposed multistate agreement, would have placed a cap on vehicle emissions by requiring gas and on-road diesel wholesalers to purchase pollution allowances. 

Supporters said TCI would have reduced emissions while raising hundreds of millions of dollars for environmental efforts.

But the measure was framed by opponents as a gas tax. 

TCI never got called for a vote during the regular session. The proposal was also left out of the budget implementer bill discussed during this week’s special session, and a spokesperson for Speaker of the House Matt Ritter said TCI would not be included in the legislature’s special session Wednesday. 

“I believe that our leadership has failed us,” said Brenda Watson, executive director of Operation Fuel, which provides assistance to people struggling with utility bills.

“I understand that no one wants to … pay for extra gas at the pump in order to travel via motor vehicle. I don’t want to do that. But for how long are we going to continue to use money as our guiding star?” Watson said. “What would it take for our health to matter first?”

If it had passed, TCI would have reinvested millions of dollars raised from fuel wholesalers back into communities underserved by transportation or overburdened by air pollution. 

Those communities are often minority communities of color.

“The unpleasant irony is that the very districts represented by leadership, in Hartford and New Haven, are the ones that need TCI investments the most,” wrote a coalition of environmental advocates in a statement released through the Center for Latino Progress. “Car ownership rates in these districts are very low and yet, the residents in these districts are heavily overburdened by air pollution and underserved by public transportation.”

Max Reiss, Gov. Ned Lamont’s director of communications, wrote in an emailed statement that the governor still supports TCI and will work with state transportation and environmental agencies on strategies to address climate change. 

“We must especially focus our efforts with an eye toward equity to improve the lives and public health of our [B]lack and brown residents who have been most adversely affected by the climate crisis,” Reiss wrote.

But Watson said the failure of TCI this session shows how lawmakers’ concerns about money and politics continue to take priority over efforts to clean up air in cities.

“I’m just really confused by policymakers who campaign on environmental justice and climate change,” Watson said. “I don’t know how they can justify not allowing TCI to make it through.”

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.