Polluted air and climate change are problems that demand swift and effective action from Connecticut’s elected officials. That’s why it’s disappointing that the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) was not  discussed in the recent special session of the Connecticut legislature.

Although State Senate President Martin Looney believes that discussions on TCI may be revived at a future date, lawmakers should be prioritizing action to clean up Connecticut’s dirty transportation system. According to a recent report released by the American Lung Association, Connecticut has some of the worst air quality on the east coast. The report identified six state counties with an air quality grade of F (the lowest grade possible), including Fairfield county, ranked the 19th most polluted county in the entire country.

This poor air quality is leading to increased rates of respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis, for residents across Connecticut. .

To add insult to injury, the state’s fossil-fuel-powered transportation system is speeding up the effects of climate change. Just weeks ago, the remnants of Hurricane Ida devastated coastal areas, leaving many parts of the state with significant damage from extreme flooding.

Scientists widely agree that climate change is a factor in growing frequency and intensity of storms like Hurricane Ida. In addition to bringing dangerous weather, climate change is also causing sea levels to rise, a fact that will be especially problematic for Connecticut, which enjoys over 600 miles of coastline.

By 2050, sea levels in Connecticut are expected to rise close to two feet higher than the national average. This increase has the potential to destroy dozens of coastal communities, forcing those who live there to find a new place to call home.

Climate change will also affect Connecticut’ fisheries. As ocean acidification increases, it will be increasingly difficult for marine organisms to maintain sustainable populations. Ocean acidification has a particularly negative impact on shellfish populations because the increased acidity of the water can dissolve their protective shells. This is an added concern for the Connecticut economy, which as of 2016, included just under $30 million in annual value of harvested oysters and clams.

Clearly there is an urgent need for Connecticut to improve its air quality and protect its people from the growing impacts of climate change. Implementing TCI would help to mitigate both of these challenges and create a healthier, more sustainable transportation system.

In 2019, the transportation sector was the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. TCI could help Connecticut reduce these emissions by over a quarter as well as create a cleaner transportation system with more options for ways to get around.

Implementing TCI would also have numerous public health benefits, including a reduction in air pollutants and car accidents. According to  a recent study by Harvard researchers, TCI could save about 1,360 lives per year and $13.5 billion in health costs annually by 2032.

Connecticut needs to act quickly to reduce its climate-harming emissions and improve the state’s air quality. TCI would be a major step for Connecticut towards achieving these goals and significantly improving the lives of its residents. We do not have any more time to waste; Connecticut’s lawmakers should prioritize TCI and become  leaders on climate change.

Ryan Giunta is Transportation Associate for the United States Public Interest Research Group. U.S. PIRG