Transportation and Clean Air Bills Clear Senate as Dems and GOP Differ on Merits and Costs


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HARTFORD — The Connecticut Senate passed a group of bills aimed at reducing emissions caused by transportation and energy generation on Tuesday night, including an omnibus air quality bill aimed at encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles for a variety of vehicles from passenger cars to buses to heavy-duty trucks, and a bill that speeds up the state’s goals for eliminating carbon emissions from electric generation.

During about seven hours of debate on a bill proponents have dubbed the “Connecticut Clean Air Act,” Republicans warned that changes in the bill came too quickly for people to adapt, that the true costs of the bill weren’t clear, and that Connecticut can’t solve its air pollution problems on its own, since pollution is carried in from other states by the wind.

The bill passed the Senate on a nearly party-line vote of 24-11, with State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, joining Democrats with a “yes” vote. The bill will still need to be heard in the House before the legislative session ends next week.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said that the “market” would resolve requirements in the bill that promote charging stations – requiring some multifamily developments with assigned parking to let residents pay to install electric vehicle charging, and requiring chargers at all new state buildings and commercial and multifamily developments built in 2023 or later.

“This should be more of a market-driven opportunity,” Formica said. “We know that the big automakers have committed to moving to electric vehicles over the next decade, and with that, the market will shift.”

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, co-chair of the Transportation Committee, said the requirement to allow residents to install charging stations was meant to ensure that residents who have the means to buy an electric vehicle and install a charging station are allowed to do so. 

Some Republicans said the costs of electric vehicles and charging stations aren’t feasible for many residents, and Haskell agreed that wealthier residents have been benefiting more from the state’s electric vehicle rebates.

Haskell said that the state had only issued 14 rebates under a program for residents qualifying for government assistance, out of nearly nearly 1,000 electric vehicle rebates that had been issued since the program began last June.

Democrats argued that the bill addresses that cost gap by expanding a rebate program for electric cars to include electric bikes, increasing rebates for people living in “environmental justice communities” and giving priority to residents of those communities and low-income people.

“This bill doesn’t fix everything,” Haskell said. “Electric vehicles are still too expensive, and installation of [charging stations] still bears some costs – no doubt about it. But I think [this bill] strikes the right balance.”

The legislation also calls for the state to adopt California’s stricter emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, as it already has for passenger vehicles – and create a voucher program for zero emissions trucks and buses to incentivize businesses to buy zero-emission, heavy duty vehicles.

It also calls for $75 million in bonding to update traffic signals to limit congestion and idling, and $20 million in bonding for matching funds to help buy zero emission school buses with federal funds.

Republicans argued that the cost of the bills isn’t worth the benefit when so much pollution is carried into Connecticut from other states.

“What we need is help from Washington,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said. “If this is such a priority, why is Congress not acting to make sure that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana are cleaning up their air? And why are we only asking families in Connecticut to do that?”

Democratic lawmakers argued that the steps in the bill will have an impact on air quality in Connecticut, and that incremental steps are still important even if they don’t solve the problem entirely.

“We should not throw up our hands and say that, because Connecticut is not hermetically sealed from the actions of other states, we should despair and do nothing,” Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.

In the omnibus air bill and a separate energy bill, the Senate moved towards codifying policies already put in place by Gov. Ned Lamont through executive order. 

If passed by the House, the air quality bill would require the state to buy or lease exclusively zero-emission vehicles in its fleet of 3,600 vehicles by 2030, and bar the state from buying diesel buses beginning in 2024.

Another bill passed by the Senate with far less controversy on a 35-0 vote would put into law Lamont’s executive order speeding up the state’s goals for eliminating carbon emissions in electric generation – requiring Connecticut to procure 100 percent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2040, a decade earlier than the previous goal of 2050.

“I often talk in terms of practicality on these bills,” Formica, the ranking Senate Republican on the energy committee, said. “This seems like a bit of a stretch, but I’m hoping with some of the projects we’re starting to see, if we can be a leader here in Connecticut with our baseload power and offshore wind – I think this opportunity can be within reach by that time.”

The Senate also passed a bill expanding an incentive for solar generation by a 35-0 vote – doubling the annual cap for shared clean energy installations and for commercial solar projects.

“This bill takes us to a new level of deploying solar in the state of Connecticut,” said State Sen. Norm Needleman, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee.