As worldwide heat, drought and extreme storms this summer punctuate the reality of climate change, Connecticut continues to wrestle with its reality that it is falling behind on its goals to reduce the carbon emissions responsible for global warming.
The state has also long been out of compliance with national ambient air quality standards for the pollutants that result in the high ozone levels we consistently record here.
After several high-profile failures, state lawmakers in the most recent session took some of their most significant actions in years to shift Connecticut’s trajectory on its climate change goals.
The most comprehensive legislation was called the Connecticut Clean Air Act, a huge bill that mostly focused on clean transportation as a means for addressing climate change. It included more robust programs to accelerate use of electric vehicles with investments in, and faster and more stringent electrification of, public transit and school bus fleets in particular.
The measure passed with only the tiniest amount of bipartisan support.
Here are some of the details of what’s poised to change as a result of Connecticut’s newest climate change policies:
What is the Connecticut Clean Air Act?
The Connecticut Clean Air Act contains a mix of mandates and incentives to establish or strengthen clean transportation programs and provides funding mechanisms for many of them.
The legislation emerged after the General Assembly in 2021 declined to even consider a bill to authorize developing a state plan for the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a proposed multi-state concept to reduce motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and provide funds for transportation projects. Republicans called the prospect that gasoline prices could increase as a result a tax, and the label stuck.
The Connecticut Clean Air Act sets up many of the same programs TCI would have — but got lucky, to some extent, on the funding component. The federal bipartisan infrastructure law will provide nearly $5.4 billion to kick-start most of the initiatives — so no pressure on gas prices, which most folks figure are high enough at the moment.
How does the new climate change law expand clean transportation?
Most of the focus is getting electric vehicles to more individuals across a broader socio-economic spectrum and getting a bigger bang for the buck by getting EVs into public and commercial fleets.
In addition to the obvious — expanding the existing electric vehicle program known as CHEAPR in several ways including adding e-bikes — it also tackles at-home charging hurdles, establishing “a right to charge” component. Under it, landlords, condominium associations and others must allow installation of electric charging stations when other stipulations are met, though tenants or unit owners would have to pay for them.
The law requires that half of the state-owned or leased motor vehicle fleet to be zero-emission by the start of 2026, 75% by the start of 2028 and 100% by the start of 2030. The state must stop purchasing or leasing diesel buses by Jan. 1, 2024. The current electric bus fleet was recently taken out of service after a fire in one of the buses.
The law sets deadlines for moving school systems away from diesel-powered school buses with special focus on environmental justice communities. They must have zero-emission buses by 2030. By 2035, other districts need to have at least alternative-fuel vehicles. By 2040, every school bus will have to produce no emissions. The first tranche of EPA funding for this is open to applications right now.
What are some of the new climate change policies in the law?
- Authorizes DEEP to adopt the more stringent California emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty motor vehicles. And it allows DEEP to establish a voucher program that supports zero-emissions medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
- Sets requirements for EV charging infrastructure in new construction.
- Set standards for “smart traffic lights” to reduce unnecessary idling at red lights and provides grants for such programs.
- Includes a non-transportation component that prevents planned communities from prohibiting owners from installing solar panels.
What were opponents’ criticisms?
Almost all GOP lawmakers voted against it, citing cost especially for electric school buses and for what renters in particular may have to pay for home chargers. They also cited their longstanding arguments that Connecticut as a single state wouldn’t have much impact on climate change and that market forces, not state mandates, should drive the transition to cleaner technologies.
What other environmental bills passed during the last legislative session?
Climate Change Mitigation (Senate Bill 10) puts into statute the 2040 zero-carbon target for all electricity supplied to Connecticut customers. It had been in place via executive order after the legislature failed to approve it in 2021.
Clean Energy Tariff Programs (Senate Bill 176) expands certain existing solar programs by raising the caps that held back their adoption and allows full use of commercial rooftops for solar generation beyond what the structure itself need to operate.
Hydrogen Task Force (House Bill 5200) establishes a group that will study the use of hydrogen — in particular green hydrogen, made without the use of natural gas the way it is now — as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.