Connecticut is failing state residents on climate action. According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s 2018 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report, our state is not on track to meet statutory emissions reduction goals. The heavy burning of fossil fuels, particularly from the transportation sector, is responsible for a rapidly changing climate, impacting the daily lives of Connecticut residents.

State leaders need to reduce emissions in a way that addresses existing disproportionate pollution burdens, improves public health, and supports economic growth. The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) is our opportunity to advance these goals.

The 2018 GHG Inventory Report revealed that emissions from vehicle exhaust are increasing, contrary to the substantial reductions needed to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets set by the Connecticut General Assembly in the Global Warming Solutions Act. In 2018, Connecticut emitted 42.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. A majority of this pollution is from the burning of fossil fuels from the transportation sector, which accounts for 38% of emissions statewide.

TCI is a cap-and-invest program to reduce transportation pollution modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI has lowered emissions from the electricity sector by 36%, and invested nearly $3 billion in clean energy initiatives for Connecticut and nine other states. TCI would cap emissions from the transportation sector, guaranteeing emissions reduction of at least 26%. At least 50% of the auction revenue would be invested in pollution-reduction projects for communities overburdened by transportation pollution and underserved by the transportation system. Clean transportation investments would be guided by an Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Board, comprised of individuals from such areas. An advisory board is essential to ensure that rural, urban, and suburban communities have representation in transportation decisions.

In the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air Report, a majority of Connecticut’s counties were given a failing grade for air quality; just imagine all the people in our state living with asthma struggling to breathe each day when a diesel truck goes by! Communities of color are often burdened with the worst air quality and health disparities. The report estimated 1,215,164 people of color suffer from poor air quality in our state; they deserve better. Black children and teens are nearly 5½ times more likely to go to the emergency department because of asthma than white kids are, while Latinx children and teens are 4½ times as likely. We need TCI to cut down the pollutants in the air that disproportionately harm the health of people of color.

In Michael J. Fox’s opinion editorial published on Oct. 18, 2021, “The TCI is not the right way to reduce emissions,” Fox referred to TCI as a “carbon tax,” expressing opposition to the program’s auction mechanism, and offered mandates on vehicle manufacturers as an alternative. The daily impacts of the fossil fuel industry’s pollution are hurting the health of our residents and costing the state far more than this proposed environmental regulation. Though a valuable tool, we currently have vehicle fuel economy mandates and the data demonstrate that, by themselves, they have been insufficient to solve the problem on the necessary scale. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to lower our climate emissions. As our experience with RGGI has shown, cap and invest programs work because they support programs to further slash fossil fuel use.

TCI would generate up to $89 million annually for clean transportation solutions, which means more jobs for residents. Businesses such as Juicebar and Noble Gas have already taken the lead on electric vehicle charging infrastructure investment, and would surely expand it with support from TCI. TCI means more electric school buses, less polluting and more reliable transit service, expanded complete streets investments, a more robust broadband network to support telecommuting, and broader access to the benefits of the clean transportation future.

Connecticut needs the Transportation and Climate Initiative to fight climate change, improve public health, and support the economy. I call on the Connecticut General Assembly to reconvene in special session to pass this policy and advance a clean transportation future.

Alex Rodriguez serves as Climate Advocate to the regional environmental organization Save the Sound.