Transportation climate initiative is the wrong policy at the wrong time
As the 2020 legislative session is about to get underway, Connecticut residents and businesses need to be on the lookout for attempts by the legislature to adopt the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI).
TCI bills itself as a “regional collaboration of 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia that seeks to improve transportation, develop the clean energy economy and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.” Those things sound like laudable goals, but they don’t tell nearly the whole story.
The bottom line is that TCI will create a hefty new tax. Some refer to it as a regional carbon tax, others refer to it as a regional gas tax. Connecticut already has two taxes on fuel, and this would be a third. It will drive up the price of gasoline and diesel – on purpose. The goal of policy like this is to make it too expensive for residents to drive cars (or trucks) powered by gasoline or diesel. This is the same idea behind congestion price tolling, which prices drivers off of the highway in order to claim that congestion has been reduced. Congestion price tolling has been rejected by the legislature, and the legislature needs to reject the TCI as well.
TCI would set an allowable cap on emissions that would decrease between 2022 and 2032. What this means is that the third fuel tax would increase between 2022 and 2032. It would be a self-raising tax; the Connecticut legislature would not have to vote to increase the tax, it would simply increase based on what unelected TCI bureaucrats have decided.
Like almost all other taxes in Connecticut, there is no guarantee that the money would go toward its intended purpose. The revenue generated would be “raid-able,” meaning that the legislature could simply take it to cover budget deficits.
Speaking of budget deficits, Connecticut has found itself facing yet another budget deficit, due in part to a different tax (the plastic bag tax) that is designed to “change our behavior,” like the TCI tax is. Proponents say the lack of plastic bag tax revenue is a good thing, because that means the tax has changed our behavior, to the point that people aren’t using the bags anymore. The problem is, now the government will need to raise other taxes in order to make up the shortfall caused by our changed behavior. If TCI is adopted, this same thing will happen again, but multiplied by a factor of ten or more. Instituting new taxes to influence behavior is an unsustainable approach.
A better way to address emissions from the transportation sector is through federal government action, combined with voluntary incentive programs. Due to mandates placed on truck manufacturers by the federal government, new diesel truck engines emit 98% fewer Particulate Matter (PM) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions than a similar engine made prior to 1990.
Additionally, according to the Diesel Technology Forum, “Between 2011 and 2018, the use of the newest, cleanest diesel Class 3-8 trucks has saved 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and eliminated 2 million tonnes of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in northeast states.” This is the result of 40% of all commercial trucks in EPA Regions 1 and 2 (New Jersey through Maine) being powered by the newest-generation diesel engines. Even if the government did nothing for the foreseeable future, emissions would continue to decrease because of the continued phase-in of the newest-generation diesel trucks replacing older trucks, as companies upgrade their fleets. With that said, both the federal government and the state government are not sitting idly by, they are acting.
The U.S. EPA is working on the next round of standards to further reduce NOx emissions from commercial trucks. The State of Connecticut is continuing to award emissions reductions grants for the repower or replacement of older vehicles, funded by the Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement. CT DEEP has announced two rounds of emissions reductions grants so far. Between these two rounds, 25 projects were selected, which will achieve 219.4 tons of lifetime NOx emissions reductions, and 13,081 tons of lifetime CO2 emissions reductions. Of these 25 projects, 10 are for Motor Transport Association of Connecticut (MTAC) members.
MTAC and its members do care about clean air. Effective environmental policy to achieve that is done by federal car and truck manufacturing standards, plus voluntary incentives, if and when applicable. A new carbon tax will only result in raising the cost of living and doing business in Connecticut, which will ultimately drive even more people and jobs out of our state and region.
Joseph R. Sculley is President of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut.
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