HARTFORD – Lawmakers approved a wide-ranging bill aimed at limiting emissions from cars, trucks and buses in an effort accelerate the shift to electric vehicles.
The bill, dubbed the “Connecticut Clean Air Act” by proponents, would require transit and school buses to transition to zero emission buses, expands electric vehicle rebates, tightens emissions standards for trucks, and requires some condo and apartment buildings to allow residents to install electric vehicle chargers.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 95-52 on Friday, with all Republicans voting against. It passed the Senate earlier in the week on a nearly party-line vote.
The bill addresses Gov. Ned Lamont’s environmental priority of giving the state more tools to address persistent pollution and air quality issues, a year after his effort to join Connecticut into a multi-state carbon cap pact failed to overcome the “gas tax” label that opponents gave it.
“We have an opportunity to make meaningful change for the future of my young children, of your young children, for the children all across Connecticut,” State Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said. “We can make the investments now, with partnership at the federal level, to electrify our school bus fleets, and to ensure our transit buses no longer contribute [to poor air quality].”
State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, the ranking House Republican on the Transportation Committee, said he agreed with some parts of the bill, including expanding the CHEAPR electric vehicle rebate program, and a provision that requires the state budget office to report how the state spends funds from the Clean Air Act vehicle registration fee each year.
But Carney said he was concerned that other parts of the bill would add costs to residents, businesses and local governments in Connecticut.
He said he isn’t opposed to the idea of switching to zero-emissions school buses across the state – which the bill requires by 2030 for school districts in environmental justice communities, and 2040 for other districts – but he’s concerned about what it will cost those districts.
The bill directs DEEP to establish a grant program to help schools buy buses, which would be funded by a $20 million state bond in the first year. This year, DEEP gave out nearly $10 million in grants from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to help pay to replace 43 buses with electric buses in seven districts.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis said local districts will be left with whatever costs to replace buses exceed the state grants or possible federal funds, and said those costs could be significant.
Lemar acknowledged the upfront costs of electric buses is significantly higher than diesel buses, but said the electric buses don’t have fuel costs or the same ongoing maintenance costs of their diesel counterparts.
“We’ve received nothing but positive response from the communities we’ve contacted,” Lemar said. “They’re nervous, there are costs, [but] we’ve identified ways to decrease those costs.”
Carney said he was also concerned with the cost businesses – especially trucking companies – would face if Connecticut adopted California’s emissions regulations for medium- and heavy-duty buses, another major piece of the bill.
“Our trucking companies have had to deal with a lot over the last several years,” Carney said. “We passed a highway use tax last year that was very controversial. Obviously the cost of gas and diesel is up. The cost of everything is up, and all that will do is trickle down to our taxpayers, our community members.”
State Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect, said that a food distribution company in Cheshire – in her district – that employs hundreds of people, is being “courted” to relocate to New York, Pennsylvania or Florida. She said this bill would cost them “millions of dollars.”
“They are going to leave, people are going to be unemployed, the town of Cheshire is going to be let with taxes that they have been counting on,” Zupkus said. “It will be devastating.”
State Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, the co-chair of the Environment Committee, said states can only choose between two sets of emissions standards – those set by the federal EPA, and stricter standards set by California. Connecticut has adopted the California standards for passenger cars, and Gresko said surrounding states including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have adopted the California standards for trucks.
“This is not a mandate [for trucking companies]. This is not a must,” Gresko said. “This just requires the manufacturers of the electric trucks to make them available to the retail public, and give individuals options.”
Carney offered an amendment that would repeal the highway fee for trucks that lawmakers approved last year, saying the best thing Connecticut can do for its trucking companies is reduce their cost burden.
Lemar said repealing that fee would reduce the state’s revenue by $45 million next year, and $90 million the following year – which he said would jeopardize “almost every” transportation project the state has considered spending federal infrastructure money on.
The amendment failed largely along party lines, with State Rep. Jill Barry, D-Glastonbury, joining Republicans by voting for the repeal.