HARTFORD — The state legislature’s Environmental Committee approved a compromise bill that significantly increases the amount of revenues directed toward communities with the highest levels of motor vehicle pollution. Environmental justice advocates had criticized a previous draft of the bill, part of a cap-and-trade proposal for motor fuels, for not doing enough to address the disparate impacts of air pollution.
The legislation, which now must be approved in the senate, would set aside 50 percent of revenues from the Transportation Climate Initiative Program for projects in communities with high levels of pollution from vehicles, or that are underserved by transportation options.
The original bill had set aside 35 percent of funds specifically for those communities.
Environmental groups and advocates for investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure have praised the legislation, which some state Republicans criticize as a regressive gas tax that adds to the already high cost of living in Connecticut.
Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura, senior vehicles engineer with the Clean Transportation program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote to lawmakers to say that a greater share of the proceeds needs to be invested in the overburdened communities to start addressing the unequal exposure to particulate matter from exhaust that can cause breathing issues, including asthma.
Abigail Roth, an alder in New Haven, where asthma rates are significantly higher than the state and national average, called for lawmakers to have the bill explicitly address neighborhood-level pollution, and to guarantee emissions reductions in communities with the greatest exposure to pollution.
The Transportation Climate Initiative Program is a cap-and-trade program that if signed into law in Connecticut would require fuel wholesalers to purchase credits for the right to sell gasoline and diesel fuel.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced in December that the state intended to join a multi-state agreement with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. to set a cap on emissions from those fossil fuels, and to offer credits at auction for an amount of fuel that would meet those emission standards.
Each state agreed to use the revenues from those auctions to fund infrastructure projects that would reduce emissions, like electrifying buses and trucks, expanding bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure in rural and urban parts of the state without the technology.
The understanding between the three states and the District of Columbia calls for at least 35 percent of the revenues generated by the sale of credits to be set aside for those projects, but advocates called for additional guarantees that the money will be used to help communities bearing a disproportionate share of transportation-related pollution.
Environmental justice advocates had called on the committee to double the amount of funding that would be set aside specifically for projects addressing air quality in highly-polluted areas, which are mainly in cities, and for improving access to transportation in underserved rural areas.
Michaela Barratt, a youth organizer with Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education in Waterbury, told lawmakers in a March hearing that the bill needs to be revised to ensure that a significant amount of funds go to communities that are “underserved and overburdened,” and to make sure people from those communities have a seat at the table to shape the program and direct the funds.
“Refusing to make the necessary amendments to this bill to ensure that underserved and overburdened communities get the aid they deserve, would indicate that the State of Connecticut is content with the environmental injustice that is prevalent in its inner cities,” Barratt said.
State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, chair of the Environment Committee, told CT Examiner that the 50 percent set aside was the result of negotiations between the office of Gov. Ned Lamont, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, environmental justice advocates and representatives of rural communities – and an effort to be “equitable and fair” in distributing revenues from the program.
“We really want to improve air quality in specific communities – environmental justice communities with a real cause for concern with respect to health conditions and poor air quality,” Cohen said. “So we knew that number needed to go up.”