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Putting Aside Carbon Caps, Lamont Presses for California Emissions Standards, EV Subsidies

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With carbon caps off the table for this year’s short legislative session, at a League of Conservation Voters forum on Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont pressed lawmakers to focus on reduced vehicle emissions by adopting California’s standards, and expanding subsidies for electric vehicles.

“One thing I’ve noticed – business, labor, in particular the legislature – everybody’s generally in favor of doing more to protect the environment,” Lamont chided legislators. “But when push comes to shove, when it comes to putting our shoulder to the wheel, sometimes you pull back when it comes time to figure out how we’re going to pay for things.”

Lamont and Katie Dykes, the state’s commissioner of energy and environmental protection, touted the administration’s gains in advancing renewable energy and reducing emissions from power plants, but called for more progress on vehicle emissions, currently Connecticut’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Dykes plugged the state’s funding for offshore wind projects and its goals for funding energy storage, while Lamont credited the state’s energy efficiency gains with halting a proposed natural gas plant in Killingly. That project, which lost its key source of funding after long delays and permitting appeals by environmental advocates, had made the administration a target of criticism by advocates who questioned its efforts to block the plant.

“We could have fought that on legal grounds,” Lamont said. “But even better is to let the market say, ‘We don’t need this because Connecticut’s doing the right thing. They’re doing the right thing on their electric grid, they’re doing the right thing in terms of efficiency, and they’re reducing their demand for electric.’”

But persistent emissions from transportation, including fuel burning cars, trucks and buses, have prevented Connecticut from keeping pace with state goals for reducing emissions – and Lamont and Dykes said reducing those emissions continues to be a priority.

Lamont and Dykes said federal infrastructure money would boost the transition to electric vehicles, and build on efforts by the Department of Transportation to phase out diesel buses, and by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to fund school buses in communities heavily burdened by pollution. That latter effort was funded by a legal settlement with automaker Volkswagen. 

“Our commitments to addressing clean transportation are motivated largely by equity and environmental justice, because the burdens of air pollution are disproportionately felt in our communities of color in our urban environments, who live close to those transportation corridors where they’re breathing more vehicle exhaust,” Dykes said.

Absent from Lamont’s remarks was any reference to the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a carbon cap for fuel sellers that advocates said was a way to both reduce emissions from vehicles, and provide funding for green infrastructure projects, but which opponents criticized as a regressive gas tax.

The TCI carbon cap program, developed over years of cooperation between states in the northeast, was a key priority of Lamont in 2021, but failed to gather enough support to pass the state senate, and faces an uncertain future in partnering states.

Lamont backed off his support for the plan late last year, and said that he would not push for lawmakers to pass the program this year amid high gasoline prices. But environmental advocates still see the program as a crucial source of funding for green infrastructure projects. 

Barry Kresch, president of the EV Club of CT, said federal funding from the infrastructure bill that passed Congress last year and state matching funds could combine for more than $60 million to boost public charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. TCI could be that source of matching funds, Kresch said.

“TCI, we know it’s in the freezer now and it’s not going to happen this session,” said Thomas Regan-Lefebvre, coordinator at the Transport Hartford Academy. “We need to, at some point, take it out of the freezer. We have a tool which is ready, just on the shelf – it has the cap on emissions, it provides funding, and it addresses the environmental justice question.”

With TCI off the table for this session, Regan-Lefebvre, Kresch and Shannon Laun – a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation – pushed for lawmakers to adopt California’s emissions standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles, which are more strict than federal standards. 

Connecticut has already adopted California’s emissions standards for light vehicles, and the proposal to include medium and heavy duty vehicles passed the State Senate last year, but has yet to receive a vote in the House. Those stricter standards require manufacturers to sell more zero-emissions vehicles starting in 2024, and as other states join with California, it’s meant to pressure manufacturers to produce those vehicles more quickly.

Dykes also pressed for lawmakers to expand Connecticut’s rebate program for electric vehicles, and Kresch again pressed for the state to allow electric vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to customers – a position Tesla has pushed for years, but which existing car dealers have opposed.

“By not permitting [direct sales], we add friction to the sales process, which is the point of it,” Kresch said. “We slow the adoption of EVs and worsen air quality. Along with sending consumers out of state, we send jobs out of state, and we send a signal to innovative green economy companies that Connecticut is not open for business.”

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