The fall meeting of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s Energy and Environment Council features a keynote address by Yale professor and former DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty, sharing “his insider’s perspective on where climate policy is headed.”

The event will also include a tour of Wallingford-based Proton Onsite, a global leader in gas generation and renewable energy storage.

So why does the promotional description of the event in CBIA’s recent newsletter call for a reconsideration of Connecticut’s existing commitments to climate protection?

Connecticut has a long history of bipartisan leadership on climate protection.  In 1990, our state legislature passed the first-in-the-nation state level global warming legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

A decade later, Gov. John Rowland established the Governor’s Steering Committee on Climate Change, which led to the state’s comprehensive 2005 Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) with detailed strategies for meeting the state’s 2010 and 2020 emissions reduction goals.

The 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, signed by Gov. Jodi Rell, incorporated the CCAP’s goals into state law and also established the more ambitious goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2001 levels by 2050.

CBIA’s newsletter, however, presents a very cynical and opportunistic view of these positive steps:

“State lawmakers adopted highly aggressive climate requirements not because anyone believed a reduction in Connecticut’s emissions would have any impact on global climate trends.  Rather, policymakers wanted to position Connecticut as a leader on climate issues to spur action by other states and the federal government, and to position ourselves to take advantage of federal legislation or regulations likely to be passed within the first two decades of the 21st Century.”

The CBIA article laments the fact that Connecticut’s mandates are more aggressive than President Obama’s new Clean Power Plan (CPP) to cut carbon emissions from power plants.  Recognizing that, “under the president’s plan, Connecticut would get credit for the emission reductions already achieved” and that “a global climate agreement is likely coming this fall from an international gathering in Paris,” CBIA suggests that we scale back our previous commitments:

“In light of these events, it’s timely for Connecticut to consider whether it makes better scientific and economic sense to align our state laws, regulations and policies with national and global commitments.”

Fortunately, CBIA’s desire to “lead from behind” is not shared widely.

Earlier this year, Gov. Dannel Malloy renewed Connecticut’s commitment to leading on climate by establishing the new Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3).  He charged the new council with designing a plan to meet the 2050 goal and to mobilize our people and institutions to make it happen.

Speaking at the first meeting of the GC3 in July, he admonished the council members “not [to] waste the opportunity to lead.”

Just this week, the governor put his words into action by joining other state and local officials from across the country in signing a declaration on climate change at the first-ever “U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit.”  In reaffirming Connecticut’s commitment to the 2050 reduction goal, he celebrated the state’s leadership and innovation “with never-before-launched initiatives like our Green Bank.”

Notably, the governor highlighted the synergy between climate protection and economic development: “It’s not just important for the environment — it builds on our efforts to create good-paying jobs and support an advanced energy economy… [W]e have achieved [the 2020 emissions reduction goal] while seeing population growth of nine percent, and overall economic growth of 41 percent.”

CBIA has focused on the need to change the state’s business climate, but what sort of climate do we seek to promote?

In addition to Proton Onsite, Connecticut is home to fuel cell manufacturers and to GE and UTC — two more global leaders producing innovative products to compete in a low-carbon future. Do we want Connecticut to be a leader in a “race to the bottom?” Or should we promote progressive policies to create demanding markets that will support innovative leaders? The investments needed to meet climate goals are the same investments needed for a 21st Century transportation system, for reliable energy, and for the preservation of the high quality of life we enjoy in Connecticut.

In a recent article, Esty advocates for an “‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to future climate change action” that “should encourage commitments from non-nation-state actors, provide an easy-to-follow set of metrics, and promote action by all who are positioned to contribute to the global response to climate change.”

At a time when Connecticut is making just such commitments and preparing to pull its weight with a new climate change action plan, it is disheartening to know that CBIA’s so-called “business leaders” want us to reverse course.

Let’s hope that Prof. Esty not only gets CBIA’s powerful hands “on-deck,” but also gets them rowing in the right direction.  Connecticut can continue to provide national and international leadership, but we’re going to need everyone pulling together if we’re going to meet our ambitious climate protection goals and build a resilient, clean energy economy that enhances our quality of life and provides good jobs for working people all across the state.

John Humphries is the organizer for the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs and a member of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change.

Thomas Swarr is a lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a consultant to the UN Environment Programme on building the capacity of small to medium sized enterprises to implement sustainable business practices.

Leave a comment