Panel advances Lamont’s bill to join regional climate pact

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A key legislative committee on Wednesday advanced Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s effort to have Connecticut formally adopt the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative Program, but the bill received pushback from Republicans and small business advocates who warn it could end up being another expense for motorists and business owners.

By a vote of 21-11, the General Assembly’s Environment Committee sent the legislation to the Senate for further action.

Under the bill, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would adopt regulations for the program, which the leaders of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., have also signed onto, along with Lamont. A cap would be established on greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline and on-road diesel fuel. Wholesale fuel suppliers would then be required to purchase “allowances” at auction, beginning in 2023, to cover the cost of the pollution from those fuels.

It’s expected to add 5-to-9 cents-per-gallon of gasoline, or possibly more.

Advocates said the funds generated — an estimated $1 billion over 10 years — would be used to pay for clean transportation investments. At least half of the money would be invested in communities adversely impacted by air pollution.

But Republicans questioned whether that would actually happen, noting how other special funds have been raided in the past by the General Assembly for other purposes, leaving motorists to ultimately pick up the tab.

“Unfortunately I think it creates a level of cynicism among legislators on both sides of the aisle in terms of new revenue sources that we create going to areas of funding in legislation that we see diverted,” said Rep. Stephen Harding Jr., R-Brookfield, the top House Republican on the committee, who warned the legislation is really a “gas tax” of at least five cents on lawmakers’ constituents.

The National Federation of Independent Business warned the legislation will lead to higher transportation costs for business and become an “unwelcome burden” for business owners who are ‘hanging on by a thread due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But Our Transportation Future, a coalition of groups that supports modernizing the transportation system across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, praised Connecticut lawmakers for advancing the bill. They argued it will ultimately lead to more electric cars and trucks, vehicle charging infrastructure, reliable and safe mass transit, walkable and bikeable communities, and less congestion and pollution, especially in underserved parts of the state.

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