Democrats, Republicans Split on Climate Change Omnibus

State Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, spoke in defense of the Omnibus Climate Change bill


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Republican lawmakers on the state legislature’s Environment Committee agreed on Wednesday that the proposed Omnibus Climate Change bill served a “noble cause,” but they opposed the legislation unanimously on the grounds that it lacked a strategy to achieve its goals and on its impact on energy prices.

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee Wednesday voted to approve House Bill 5004, known as the Onibus Climate Change bill or ‘Green Monster.’ After the vote, with the unanimous support of Democratic lawmakers and Unanimous Republican opposition, the bill will now move to the floor. 

Republican lawmakers objected that the bill would impact household budgets and that it did not provide a strategy that includes either nuclear energy or natural gas, which are considered cleaner than other energy sources such as coal and capable of supplying the growing electricity demand which, according to the Republicans, cannot be met just by renewables sources.

“I think [this bill] is an extreme approach and it will be bad for our economy and it will just bankrupt the people of Connecticut,” said State Rep. Patrick Callahan, R-New Fairfield. “Our electricity prices are extremely high and make it very difficult for people to make ends meet. We can come up with solutions to create affordable power and without the word nuclear being mentioned in this bill at all, I don’t know how that is going to happen.”

The bill includes a combination of incentives for businesses and guidelines for state agencies with the goal of Connecticut achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the 2001 level by 65% by 2040 and to reach at least 85% reductions by 2050. 

As a consequence of the effect of human beings, according to the latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in March 2023, the global temperature is expected to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in the first half of the 2030s. Avoiding this threshold is the target set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. To avoid this situation, as noted in the report, industrialized countries must make a joint effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by the early 2050s, as proposed in H.B. 5004.

The defense of the project was led by State Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester. 

Palm said the bill updates the current Global Warming Solution Act to align it with the goals of neighboring states. She stressed that the bill creates incentives for both businesses and municipalities to adopt clean energy, mandates workforce training and state accountability, as well as promotes the expansion of nature-based solutions.

“If this bill has any flaws, it is all carrots and no stick,” said Palm. “To save money on our energy costs, we need to begin weaning ourselves off the fossil fuel economy and the vagaries of OPEC, which none of us in this building can control. And this is a good faith attempt to begin that.”

Callahan said he was concerned about the environment, but said the bill’s goals are at odds with the state’s projected increase in electricity demand.

“The energy demand across the country and in our state is increasing dramatically. Why? Because we now have data storage EVs, Bitcoin, artificial intelligence, data mining, carbon sequestration, heat pumps,” Callahan said. “FERC [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] is saying that we will need 38 more gigawatts of power, the equivalent of 34 more nuclear plants.”  

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield said he was concerned about the bill’s impact on consumer energy prices given that the state already pays the second-highest energy costs in the county. 

“The energy bill oftentimes is the most expensive bill in their household,” Harding said. “Inevitably, when we set these goals, albeit extremely noble, we are going to be adding a significant cost to the consumers of the state.”

Harding also criticized a language in the bill which proposes a study of strategies to achieve the climate and energy goals, due in 2026, calling it the cart before the horse.

“We are mandating something with literally no plan to get there in the same exact bill,” Harding said. “It would make much more sense from a practical and legislative perspective for us to say, ‘this is how we’re going to get there and then set the goal.’”

Both Callahan and Harding stressed that both sides of the aisle agreed on the importance of combating climate change. State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, however, denied that there was a climate crisis. 

At the environment committee public hearing held on Friday, March 8, Rep. Palm said it was unclear how much it would cost to implement the bill’s provisions, but added they expected to use federal Inflation Reduction Act funds as well as bond money.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford called the bill timely given the availability of federal funds to finance its goals.

“We can’t wait, things will get worse,” Mushinsky said. “There won’t be federal money. So now is the opportune time to start this transition. And we would be neglecting our state’s interests if we did not start the transition now.”