In Interview, Palm Leans in to Climate Change Bill

State Rep. Christine Palm (Courtesy of the Palm)


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In March, Christine Palm, a Democrat who sits as vice chair of Environment Committee introduced what could be the last major bill of her six years as a state representative. She hopes the climate change bill will be her political legacy.

Critics have derided it as a “Green Monster,” but Palm has adopted the epithet as her own, agreeing that the measure is big and ambitious. The bill declares a climate emergency in Connecticut, sets stringent emissions goals targeting net-zero carbon by 2050, and creates a series of incentives for businesses and obligations for public agencies.

Having decided not to run for reelection, Palm will leave her House seat at the end of the year and return to her previous job, writing. But she said she didn’t plan to give up political debate and compromise.

“I love this job, but it has been a long six years,” Palm told CT Examiner. “I want to go back to my writing and I have ideas to be effective. Training people, educating people about this issue that matters to me.”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CTEx: Republicans on the Environment Committee claim that the climate change bill would increase energy costs. Is that the case? 

Palm: The Office of Fiscal Analysis has not told us how much this bill will cost, but I don’t believe there will be a significant increase for ratepayers. And I want to remind everybody that ratepayers are human beings. Their lungs and their children’s asthma don’t care what the rate is. They care about the future of carbon in our atmosphere. I am not a wealthy person and I care about household budgets, but if we don’t recognize that the cost of doing nothing will be far greater than the cost of implementing these programs, we are doomed.

CTEx. The bill proposes a study to define a strategy to meet emissions targets, but critics claim the strategy should have been established beforehand. Does this make sense to you?

Palm: I think that is an excuse. You always have a goal before you make a plan. Whether you are deciding what to have for dinner. Of course, this bill is aspirational. All legislation is aspirational. I think Republicans keep moving the goalposts back. For years they said, “We can’t do environmental bills because they are too hard on business.” This bill is full of incentives for businesses like rebates, tax cuts and waived fees, making it easier for them. Even the CBIA [Connecticut Business and Industry Association], a very conservative business alliance, likes this bill. So I have done exactly what they wanted, and they still hate the bill.

CTEx: Are you confident that the bill will be approved?

Palm: As a speaker’s priority bill, I believe it will pass. How many Republican votes will I get? I don’t know. Probably none on the Environment Committee, but I believe there are other Republicans in the House and the Senate who care about the environment and will vote yes. What it comes down to is how much time the speaker of the House is willing to let Republicans spend talking. I would use the word waste. He would call it debating. But when they spend hours talking about how climate change is not real, I don’t know where to go from that. A lot of the debate is not a real inquiry. They are not learning about the bill, they are just posturing against it.

CTEx: In an interview with the CT Examiner, Gov. Ned Lamont said that the state is not on track to meet its carbon goals. Why set more ambitious targets if the previous ones could not be achieved?

Palm: We haven’t met our targets because we can’t just claim to have a goal and then not do anything about it. The only time we met our target was in 2022 when nobody was driving because of COVID. I don’t want to return to those days and I don’t want to say to people, “You can’t drive your car.” That is not realistic, but it is proof that human activity is contributing to global warming. The goals were suggested by international experts. They are the standard of what we should all be shooting for and other states have adopted them.

CTEx: Other bills in this legislature promote natural gas as a supposed way to transition to a greener future. Isn’t that inconsistent with the climate change bill goals?

Palm: Natural gas is seen as the bridge to renewables. It is better than coal and oil; it is not as good as geothermal, wind or solar. But I fear that if we keep building out our gas infrastructure, if we make that bridge too attractive, people will get halfway across and say, “This bridge is not so bad, it is kind of pretty. I’m going to live here on the bridge.” I don’t want that to happen. One of the sections in the bill’s original language was that PURA [Public Utilities Regulatory Authority] would open a docket on how to phase out gas. We changed it to study the future of gas. That was a compromise. I would have preferred to say we are going to phase it out.

CTEx: The bill was called the ‘Green Monster.’ What do you think of his nickname? 

Palm: The Yankee Institute named it the “Green Monster” as an insult. It’s not an independent think tank. They are funded by the Koch brothers and are spokespeople for the fossil fuel industry. But we started calling it the Green Monster too, because it’s not an insult that it has to be ambitious and big. What I call it is the Connecticut Climate Protection Act. That’s the real name. 

CTEx: What is the most important part of the bill?

Palm: Declaring a climate crisis is important because we have to signal to young people, businesses and the federal government that we in Connecticut are taking this very seriously. Having these targets aligned with international and regional best practices is important. All the incentives for business, what we keep calling carrots instead of sticks. Protecting and expanding nature-based solutions such as protecting old-growth forests that soak in carbon or riparian buffers along rivers to protect the water. And holding state agencies accountable for their carbon footprint. We want all new or renovated state buildings to be 100% electric. Those are the biggest things. 

CTEx: The Biden administration supports climate change policy. Are you concerned that national policy may affect environmental commitments? Can the state stand on its own?

Palm: Yes to both questions. I am very worried. Donald Trump has already said that the first thing he will do if he gets reelected is “drill, baby, drill.” I got elected in 2018. Trump was in office and I introduced a bill to outlaw permitting seismic surveying, which is exploratory drilling. The bill didn’t get raised. Then Joe Biden got elected, and I didn’t introduce the bill again. We didn’t need it, because Biden said, “I am going to cancel these permits for drilling.” Now Trump is saying that he is going to drill, so we would have to enact a bill again to protect our state from him. But air and water pollution doesn’t know any geographical or political boundaries. If we pass all these wonderful laws in Connecticut, but the rest of the country doesn’t, we are going to suffer too. I am worried and any thinking person is worried. If you are not worried about the climate or what effect Trump is going to have, you’re asleep. One of the things that my bill is trying to do is get funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to enact some of these things while we still have a chance. 

CTEx: You are not running for reelection. Do you consider this bill a kind of legacy?

Palm: It is a very important legacy for me. That is not why I am doing it, but I’m hoping that I can leave on the note of having done that important thing. I have had some successes in six years, but I’m 68 years old. I was a journalist, and I’m primarily a writer and a teacher, and I just want to get back to that.

CTEx: Did you get tired of the political struggle? 

Palm: Well, I am tired of political nonsense. I’m not tired of struggle. I’m not tired of debate. I’m not tired of compromise. I’m tired of climate-denying bullshit, but that is not why I am not running. I want to go back to my writing and I have ideas to be effective. Training people, educating people about this issue matter to me. I have a lot of mixed feelings about not running again. I love this job, but it’s been a long six years. It is pretty exhausting and I just want to get back to working in a different way.