HARTFORD — A bill that would expand the state’s power to make regulations to reduce emissions passed the Environment Committee on Friday over objections from Republican lawmakers who said it gave the executive branch too much power to implement programs that could add costs to consumers and potentially devastate industries like agriculture.
Republican legislators claimed the bill was a backdoor attempt at handing the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection the power to implement the Transportation and Climate Initiative — a multistate effort to reduce emissions in transportation that failed to win approval from the legislature in 2021.
State Sen. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, co-chair of the Environment Committee, said during the committee’s debate on Friday that he understood Republicans’ concerns that the bill could increase costs for consumers, but said “almost all of us in the room” agree that emissions and climate change are real problems, and the bill is the best way they can address them.
“A bill like this that sets standards is one of the best ways government can actually set the tone of how we can reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our emissions, and create a healthier environment,” Lopes said.
State Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, a ranking Republican on the committee, said the bill will raise costs for people in Connecticut, and said it’s clear that it would allow DEEP to move forward with TCI despite failing to gain the approval of the legislature in 2021.
State Rep. Pat Callahan, R-New Fairfield said he was concerned the bill would allow DEEP to establish other cap and trade programs that would effectively be an added tax for consumers on heating oil, gasoline and electricity.
“This would be devastating to the people of Connecticut, and devastating to our economy that can’t handle the added costs right now,” Callahan said. “Renewables are great, but we do not have the infrastructure to do that, and that the free market will take care of that.”
But Lopes said that any new regulations would still need to go through the regular regulatory process, a “strenuous and difficult process” he said that can take years. And if lawmakers don’t like the regulations, they will still be around each year to change the law, he said.
“I truly believe in my heart of hearts that we need to do more on the environment. I mean, it is absolutely necessary,” Lopes said. “And it’s not going to be an easy decision. But if we don’t start, when are we going to start working on it?”
State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said 432,000 people in Connecticut have lung disease, and are being hospitalized and missing school and work because of lung diseases from ozone and particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions. She said the state also needs to work on its climate goals and limiting the impact of climate change on Connecticut.
State Rep. Francis Cooley, R-Plainville, compared the bill “ceding legislative authority” to the fall of the Roman republic, the Weimar Republic in Germany, and the U.S. Congress ceding power to the “imperial presidency” in the 20th century.
“When a legislature gives up authority to an administrative body, it is incredibly difficult for that legislative body to claw back that power,” Cooley said.
DEEP did not respond on Friday to a request by CT Examiner for clarification of a statement on Thursday, which did not directly address whether the bill would allow the department to move forward with TCI or a cap and trade program with other states without the approval of the full legislature.
Instead, the department referred CT Examiner to written testimony from DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes, which does not explain what it would mean for the department to adopt “market-based compliance mechanisms” developed with other states.
In her testimony, Dykes says the state is not on track to meet the legislature’s goal of reducing emissions by 45 percent from 2001 levels by 2030 under the department’s existing “limited regulatory authority,” and said the state will need additional “programs, incentives and policies,” to get there.
The bill calls for DEEP to set specific targets for emissions from individual sectors: heating and cooling, industry, natural gas distribution and service, and agriculture.
Dykes said in written testimony that developing “sub-targets” for emissions from each sector will allow the state to map out a trajectory for each to reach Connecticut’s 2030 emissions targets. A similar law passed in Massachusetts in 2021 let the state set a “road map” to its own decarbonization goals, Dykes said.
“[The road map] provides industries with clear timelines for reducing their emissions based on the availability and cost effectiveness of carbon-reducing technologies,” Dykes wrote. “The roadmap also helps minimize the ability of sectors with readily available cost-effective decarbonization options to wait to take action.”
State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said the bill is “essentially going to wipe out animal agriculture in Connecticut,” unless agriculture was exempted from the bill. Limiting emissions from cows and pigs will burn out farmers who are already on the brink of shutting down, he said.
“Cows fart. They produce methane when they fart. They also burp, and so do pigs,” Dubitsky said. “There has been a push over the last many years to get the cows and pigs and chickens out of the barn, out into the pasture. Capturing those burps and farts out in the pasture is, at the moment, impossible.”
Mushinsky said that while she wants to support farmers, nobody should be exempt from emissions standards. Farmers, she said, can seek funding from the Connecticut Green Bank to transition to equipment that can limit their emissions.
“Everybody’s got to play a part in getting us to cleaner air and preventing climate change damage to our state,” Mushinsky said. “Even the farmers.”