Conn. governor signs climate change law to protect shoreline, says he will push for more action in future

The law will help communities prevent flooding, give towns more power to fight climate change and provide much needed funding for green infrastructure

Govenor Ned Lamont

“I really believe in 50 years, people are going to remember this as one of the most important bills you passed this year,’' Gov. Ned Lamont said to legislators and advocates gathered at the bill’s signing on Tuesday.

Sofie Brandt

By Christopher Keating
Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — Environmentalists joined Gov. Ned Lamont Tuesday to praise a new climate change law that helps prevent flooding, gives towns more power to fight climate change and provides $30 million to expand the state’s Green Bank for infrastructure projects in the effort.

But while 25 advocates stood in support on a public beach in Guilford for the “climate resilience’’ law, they did not initially mention the biggest climate bill of the year — the Transportation Climate Initiative that would have raised $90 million per year and gradually reduced the amount of carbon emitted into the air by forcing motor fuel suppliers to pay for the pollutants they emit.

Despite a Democratic governor and General Assembly, TCI was rejected by state legislators who said the bill would raise gasoline prices too much. Lamont defended what he was able to accomplish and pledged to continue to push for the transportation initiative.

The new law is “about protecting our shoreline. This is about protecting Connecticut. If we had TCI, if we were able to get our transportation system all-electric, that would be the best thing we could do long-term, going forward. In the meantime, we have some immediate needs right now on our coastline in particular. That’s what this resilience bill is all about.’'

“Other states thought that Connecticut would be in a position to take the lead on this,’' Lamont said. “We weren’t able to get that passed, but it will come up again.’'

Connecticut had been planning to join Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in the initiative, which is designed to cut carbon emissions by at least 26% in the 10-year window from 2022 to 2032 in Connecticut. The initiative is a regional cap-and-trade plan to raise money to combat climate change by seeking wholesale reductions in motor vehicle pollution, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

But opponents, including gasoline retailers and the state’s trucking association, said the problems with the potential gasoline price increases had prompted New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to avoid joining the group. Joe Sculley, the chief lobbyist for the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut that represents truckers, said the idea is essentially a third state gasoline tax on top of the complicated two-pronged tax that already exists.

Lamont and advocates instead concentrated Tuesday on the new law in the long-running battle against climate change.

“I really believe in 50 years, people are going to remember this as one of the most important bills you passed this year,’' Lamont said to legislators and advocates gathered at Jacobs Beach.

Environmental activist Curt Johnson, who serves as president of Save The Sound, said the steps toward flood prevention will have long-lasting impacts.

“It’s important to pause every once in a while and celebrate,’' Johnson said, adding that the new law is designed to ensure that “this beach is protected in the future.’'

Johnson, Lamont and advocates said that an additional $30 million in state Green Bank funds will be important for an environmental infrastructure fund.

“That may not seem that important, but let me tell you why it is,’' Johnson said, agreeing with others that the money would be used to potentially generate three to four times as much in federal funding for projects like raising the road beds in certain areas to prevent flooding and coastal erosion.

State environmental commissioner Katie Dykes and others said the state must make up for lost time in the ongoing battle against climate change.

“Unless we take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is going to be a runaway train,’' Dykes said. “We have to address and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions or else we’re never going to be able to afford the scale of investment that we’ll need to keep our communities safe. So these are parallel priorities. … Transportation sector emissions continue to grow.’'

Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford, who did not appear at the Lamont press conference, said he was concerned about Lamont’s statement that the gasoline battle will continue.

“The TCI gas tax is a significant burden on working and middle class families, with little improvement in greenhouse gas pollution, which is why early supporters like the Sierra Club have since withdrawn their support,’' Kelly said Tuesday. “It is a tax that even Democrats now admit will hurt poorer people with older vehicles who would pay a disproportionate amount of the cost. … Rhode Island is not moving forward with the tax. No state to our west — the places that create the pollution we breathe in — are participating, thus making the program ineffective for reducing emissions significantly in our state.’'

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