The furious reaction of environmental advocates that followed the Rhode Island and Connecticut legislatures’ decision not to take up bills on the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) was unsurprising. After all, rare is the climate policy they won’t support or deem existentially critical. But these state legislatures should be commended, not criticized, for recognizing the deep flaws of the program and not bowing to the manufactured frenzy.
The truth is not every climate policy is a good one, and TCI is one such policy.
Concocted by the Georgetown Climate Center, a Washington D.C. think tank, without any industry input and marketed by state environmental departments as a pro-climate fee on gasoline distributors, TCI, in reality, is nothing more than a money-raising scheme that forever jettisons legislative oversight on the price and availability of gasoline and diesel.
TCI would require distributors of motor fuel to purchase allowance credits for every gallon of motor fuel they sell into participating states. Each year for the next 10 years, allowance credit availability is reduced by three percent making gasoline and diesel more and more scarce. That means we can expect supply outages if consumption doesn’t fall by at least three percent per year. And wouldn’t you know it, the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects only a six percent reduction in consumption, meaning we can expect such outages sooner rather than later.
Supporters of TCI are quick to attack the motor fuel industry, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle and industry lobbyists whose role it is to educate our elected officials, so they make informed decisions. But because the industry didn’t have a role in the development of TCI, we are now forced to point out its flaws. And there are quite a few.
One pro-TCI Connecticut editorial confronted Senate President Martin Looney for “failing future generations of Connecticut by his complete lack of understanding on the science of the climate and buying the Republican talking points that this is a tax.” The piece also said he “should have acted on behalf of the disenfranchised instead of protecting the powerful gas lobby.”
Caustic words, but does this person understand how the program actually works? Have they read the overly complex 160-plus page model rule? Do they care to understand the complex and hypercompetitive fueling industry? Or would they care or be impacted when motor fuel outages occur because of a flawed allowance auction process? Highly doubtful. Fortunately, our elected leaders have a responsibility to suppress emotion, holistically evaluate legislation and determine whether the consequences are worth it.
Everyone should be wary of TCI, because everyone uses motor fuels and most will for the foreseeable future. It’s how we get to work, visit our parents and children, and how most products and services get to us. TCI has not been well thought out and lacks a shared vision on how best to effectively reduce transportation sector emissions.
No program, particularly one that impacts a critical infrastructure product, should require so much spin to gain support. But that is exactly what proponents have been doing for the last year. Fortunately, the instincts of the Rhode Island and Connecticut legislatures are spot on with their skepticism. We owe them a great deal of gratitude, not grief.
Jonathan Shaer is director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association.