Connecticut has long been an advocate for environmentally progressive legislation and sustainable practices, with the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act as a reigning standard that requires state agency assessments of actions that could significantly alter or harm the environment. Under this legislation, state agencies must evaluate the extent of potential environmental impact and, if found to present a threat, agencies must engage with public feedback and possibly modify their course of action to better align with more sustainable principles. Though the Connecticut government frequently champions favorable environmental initiatives, many less-managed practices still readily contribute to environmental harm.

Roxana Grunenwald

The transportation sector is consistently one of the largest offender in greenhouse gas emissions in Connecticut, along with electric, residential, and commercial/industrial emissions. Over the past two decades, emissions from these sectors have remained stubbornly high and stagnant. Improvements in sustainable and renewable electricity sources have helped, but much like improvements in fuel efficiency in the transportation sector, there is increased participation in greenhouse gas-emitting activities, making progress in efficiency often negligible.

Transportation emissions, in particular, are of grave concern. Connecticut must focus on the transportation sector in order to meet its announced goal of reducing emissions to a level 45% below that in 2001 by the year 2030. In response to data revealing Connecticut’s inability to reach its 2030 goal based on its current emissions, Governor Lamont issued a December 2021 executive order instructing state agencies to take “… significant actions within their authority to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the impacts of the climate crisis.” Sustainable practices must be advanced among all levels of government, including at the Connecticut General Assembly, which has recently introduced House Bill 5831, An Act Concerning the Federal Clean Air Act Fee on Motor Vehicle Registration.

The federal Clean Air Act established ambient air quality standards for six common “criteria pollutants,” including particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead. Connecticut has placed a federal Clean Air Act fee of $5 per year on all non-electric vehicle license renewals or registrations. As it stands, 57.5% of this money contributes to the Special Transportation Fund, which was initially intended to be spent solely on infrastructure development, but was then diverted to pay down General Fund deficits instead of funding sustainable infrastructure. An additional 42.5% of money collected from this fee goes directly to the General Fund, where it is often spent on non-environmentally progressive programs.

H.B. 5381 amends this. This bill mandates that the money from the federal Clean Air Act fee currently contributing to the General Fund will be directed to a designated federal Clean Air Act account, which will target criteria pollutants to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. This bill ensures that all revenue from the fee will be spent on sustainable improvements, whether through the Special Transportation Fund or the federal Clean Air Act account, promoting government expenditure transparency and accountability.

The passage and implementation of H.B. 5381 is integral for Connecticut to achieve its 2030 carbon emissions goals. Additionally, the investment spending in real capital – in physical, sustainable infrastructure – promoted by this bill would contribute to a robust future economy with sustained productivity increases. Further, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that minority communities are at a greater risk of suffering from conditions caused by high carbon emissions, due to residence in high-polluting areas and lacking healthcare for pre-existing conditions like asthma. Therefore, this bill will also work concurrently toward achieving Connecticut’s economic growth and environmental justice goals.

H.B. 5381 has passed through the Transportation Committee, and is soon set to be voted on by the House. By passing this bill into law, the CGA has the agency to direct all funds garnered from sustainable initiatives into new sustainable initiatives, increasing government transparency and promoting environmental justice. H.B. 5381 will cultivate a culture where sustainability begets sustainability.

Click here to contact your representative about their support for House Bill 5381.

Roxana Grunenwald is a student at Yale University and a legislative fellow with the Yale College Democrats