NORWALK, Conn. — What is the new Transportation and Climate Initiative that Connecticut has signed on to be a part of and what does it mean for communities like Norwalk?
Those were the two major questions that a virtual webinar hosted by State Representatives Stephanie Thomas (D-143) and Travis Simms (D-140), featuring Katie Dykes, Connecticut’s Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Garrett Euclitto, Deputy Commissioner at ConnDOT, aimed to address. Thomas said the meeting was held to help clear up some confusion and comments about what the program actually is.
What is the new Transportation and Climate Initiative?
Dykes said that the regional effort, which includes Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, aims to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas and other emissions caused by transportation.
“The program essentially will require polluters, in this case, the polluters are those who sell gasoline and petroleum fuels at wholesale, will require them to pay for the pollution that they are emitting in the state of Connecticut, that they’re causing on communities in Connecticut. The program takes that payment, essentially those dollars, and it turns around and reinvest them in communities in clean transportation options,” she said.
Dykes estimated that between 2023, when the proposed start of the Transportation and Climate Initiative is scheduled to go into effect, and 2032, Connecticut could generate about $1 billion in revenue through the program.
Dykes said that it’s a similar program to the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative, which aimed to address greenhouse pollution from power plants, except this time it’s geared toward the transportation industry.
“The transportation sector is a major source of pollution in our state,” she said. “It’s the largest source of air pollution, and the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in our state. And almost all of that pollution that we’re talking about is coming from vehicle traffic, from cars and trucks that are burning fossil fuels, namely gasoline and diesel fuel.”
The State would set a cap or limit on the amount of emissions that would be allowed and that cap would decline over a 10-year period.
“And the program essentially requires those fuel suppliers to purchase allowances to cover the emissions caused by the sale of their fuels,” she said. “And then the revenue from the sale of those allowances to the fuel suppliers comes back to the state of Connecticut. And those are the billion dollars that we project to receive in the coming decade, that will be reinvested in the clean transportation solutions that we mentioned.”
If the fuel suppliers were to pass on 100% of the costs of these allowances onto the customers, Dykes said she would anticipate about a five-cent impact on gas prices in 2023, which could go up to a 10 cent impact on gas prices by 2032.
“Our goal is not to make driving expensive, not to make gasoline expensive,” she said. “Our goal is to achieve emissions reductions through the investment of the billion dollars in clean transportation solutions.”
Dykes said that these emissions are causing climate change and impacting air quality and public health. About 67% of the air pollution in Connecticut comes from vehicles, she said, and it often disproportionately affects the state’s urban communities and those next to highways.
“It’s 15 to 20% higher than in suburban or rural communities,” she said. “And so when we talk about making progress on environmental justice, addressing racial injustices that are prevalent in our state, and reflected in zoning and the types of pollution that communities are burdened with, the transportation sector is a major contributor that when it comes to air pollution. So it’s critical for us to make progress on environmental justice that we tackle vehicle traffic and vehicle emissions.”
She cited Hartford and New Haven as two cities that have been ranked as some of the worst places to live for people with asthma due to air pollution.
By implementing the program, it would also allow Connecticut to get to its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030.
“Unless we invest in ways that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand clean transportation alternatives, it’s just impossible to meet that,” she said.
What impact could the Transportation and Climate Initiative have in communities like Norwalk?
The funds raised through the Transportation and Climate Initiative would be reinvested in communities, particularly those who have been underserved by the transportation system and those who have been overburdened by pollution. The initiative requires at least 35% of the funds raised to be dedicated to those communities.
“It’s going to be up to the communities and the residents of those communities to help make those decisions on how best to reduce emissions in their communities,” Euclitto said.
He listed some examples such as transforming intersections to roundabouts, upgrading traffic signals, investing in bikeable, walkable alternatives, making electric cars more affordable, expanding train service, and transforming state and city bus fleets from diesel to electric.
Thomas said that she believed it was important to address issues such as climate change and environmental pollution. Thomas cited the efforts in Norwalk to oppose the Norden Place distribution plans as an example of how environmental pollution is important to quality of life.
“Our community recently, a few months ago, fought a special permit proposal for a distribution center that would have meant over 1,000 weekly truck trips through a neighborhood with several schools,” she said. “And although we talked about pedestrian and bicycle safety, the conversation also centered around emissions and concern about an increase in diesel particulate matter, which I thought more than anything else showed me that this community cares about the environment.”
Simms said that his district has been impacted by pollution and environmental injustice, which is why he wanted to have this educational forum.
“And my district, I serve a lot of the lowest income residents, and where a lot of these contractor yards are and where there are a lot of the concerns of polluting and environmental hazards and things of that nature,” he said.