Connecticut’s General Assembly has officially gone home after failing to pass a single piece of significant climate legislation.
As Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Katie Dykes and several legislators pointed out in exasperation, the failure to act came as smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed Hartford and the rest of the region, a harbinger of things to come if we continue failing to curb emissions.
Despite repeated claims to be a national climate leader, Connecticut is falling further and further behind our more ambitious neighbors –- including New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts -– in passing meaningful climate legislation. After months of effort by concerned legislators and virtually unanimous support from environmental advocates, bills that would strengthen the state’s climate law, shift new buildings and schools away from fossil fuel heating, and require a comprehensive roadmap to meet our climate goals all failed.
This is not the path we promised to take.
Fifteen years ago, Connecticut was a climate leader when the General Assembly first passed the Global Warming Solutions Act. This law currently requires Connecticut to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. But Connecticut is not on track to meet either of these goals. Even worse, the state has pursued an accounting gimmick to cover up its lack of real progress.
Alarmingly, Connecticut only met its “easy” 2020 target (10 percent reduction from 1990 levels) by switching to a consumption-based methodology for the electric sector. Consumption-based accounting fails to include all the emissions from electricity generated in Connecticut that is exported to other states. But these emissions still exist and continue to harm the health of Connecticut communities. It’s deeply concerning that state leadership has chosen to obfuscate our lack of progress instead of taking meaningful action. There’s a real accountability problem here.
Unlike Connecticut officials, climate change isn’t just twiddling its thumbs; it’s affecting our health, our coastline, our pocketbooks, and our environment in deeply adverse ways as we speak. Warmer winters are contributing to increased flooding and causing tick-borne illnesses to run rampant. Sea levels are rising rapidly, with communities along Long Island Sound expected to lose two to seven feet of coastline in the next 80 years. Storms fueled by changing weather patterns have caused $443 million in damage since 2010. And our continued reliance on gas and diesel cars and trucks leads to poor air quality that shows no signs of improving.
We can’t just wait around for the General Assembly to act – legislators don’t return until February and then only for an abbreviated session. What we can do right now is drive real progress on some crucial but slow-moving regulatory efforts at DEEP.
We need to inject some urgency into the 2022 Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), which will focus on decarbonizing the buildings sector. Buildings are the second largest source of emissions in Connecticut, but the state currently has no plan for reducing them. A final CES is urgently needed to guide our progress. But the CES is way behind schedule, with no action since DEEP held technical meetings in Fall 2022. This is the kind of foot-dragging that can’t continue if we are going to make any progress on our climate goals.
At the same time, DEEP continues to sit on draft regulations that would strengthen emission standards for cars and trucks in line with California and other climate leaders, including Vermont and Massachusetts. Transportation is the largest source of emissions in Connecticut. Yet DEEP is moving at a snail’s pace in proposing these regulations, even as our neighboring states act swiftly and decisively to finalize them.
Climate change isn’t waiting. It is putting a brown haze over the entire state, crumbling our coastline and flooding streets, threatening our health with declining air quality, and increasing mortality from heat in our inner cities. And, of course, the worst of these burdens are borne by those who can least afford it, making Connecticut’s climate problem an environmental justice problem as well.
Time is running out. Our state officials must take decisive action to reduce emissions now and reestablish Connecticut as a true climate leader.
Shannon Laun is Vice President of the Conservation Law Foundation.