Gov­er­nors slow to adopt re­gional cli­mate pact

Antelope Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHAEL CASEY

CON­CORD, N.H. — Sup­port­ers of a re­gional pact that would tackle trans­porta­tion emis­sions are strug­gling to win over sev­eral New Eng­land gov­er­nors con­cerned that the cli­mate change ini­tia­tive will in­crease gas prices.

Af­ter the Trans­porta­tion and Cli­mate Ini­tia­tive was an­nounced last month, New Hamp­shire’s Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Su­nunu said the state won’t join, cit­ing fears of a gas price hike. Ver­mont’s Repub­li­can Gov. Phil Scott said he couldn’t sup­port the ini­tia­tive if it amounts to a tax on car­bon. A spokesman for Maine’s Demo­cratic Gov. Janet Mills said states like Maine have unique trans­porta­tion is­sues and will be “ap­pro­pri­ately cau­tious.”

The ini­tia­tive is aimed at a dozen North­east and mid-At­lantic states and would take ef­fect in 2022. It would ad­dress pol­lu­tion from trans­porta­tion — which rep­re­sents 40% of green­house gas emis­sions in the re­gion, the largest source of emis­sions. The area has tens of mil­lions of reg­is­tered ve­hi­cles.

New Jer­sey has not com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing the ini­tia­tive while a spokesman for Demo­cratic Gov. Ned La­mont said his ad­min­is­tra­tion was still ex­am­in­ing it. Vir­ginia is also re­view­ing the draft mem­o­ran­dum.

“I am happy to see that other Gov­er­nors are fol­low­ing my lead in right­fully sound­ing the alarm on this new gas tax,” Su­nunu said in a state­ment. “New Hamp­shire is proof that the best en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship can be achieved with­out mas­sive tax schemes.”

Many of the states are al­ready part of the Re­gional Green­house Gas Ini­tia­tive, which cov­ers 10 states in the North­east and mid-At­lantic and tar­gets emis­sions from the power sec­tor.

Un­der the Trans­porta­tion and Cli­mate Ini­tia­tive, whole­sale fuel com­pa­nies would be re­quired to pur­chase pol­lu­tion al­lowances at auc­tion. The sale of those al­lowances could gen­er­ate bil­lions for states to in­vest in car­bon-re­duc­ing trans­porta­tion op­tions — like elec­tric buses, elec­tric car charg­ing sta­tions, bike lanes and side­walks.

The ini­tia­tive could lead to emis­sions re­duc­tions in the re­gion by as much as 25% by 2032. But the op­po­si­tion ap­pears be around a po­ten­tial gas price hike. If fuel com­pa­nies pass the cost of the al­lowances onto con­sumers, the price of gas in the re­gion could climb by five cents to 17 cents per gal­lon in 2022, when the pact would take ef­fect.

Among the pact’s op­po­nents is Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, the ad­vo­cacy group founded by the bil­lion­aire Koch broth­ers. The group’s New Hamp­shire chap­ter came out against the TCI the same day as Su­nunu, call­ing the ini­tia­tive a top­down gov­ern­ment man­date that would “pun­ish hard­work­ing Gran­ite Staters.”

Sup­port­ers of the ini­tia­tive said the fears over gas prices are overblown and ig­nore the agree­ment’s po­ten­tial ben­e­fits.

“Per­son­ally I think this is po­lit­i­cal grand­stand­ing,” said Tim­mons Roberts, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies at Brown University. “This is the in­cre­men­tal change, it would be over 12 years. This is just us­ing a well-mean­ing ef­fort as a whip­ping boy.”

But Roberts and oth­ers ac­knowl­edge that the pact needs to ad­dress the con­cerns of low-in­come and work­ing fam­i­lies who must drive long dis­tances for work or school.

“Some peo­ple pos­i­tively opt into this life­style, but many don’t. They live where they live be­cause of fam­ily, lack of eco­nomic mo­bil­ity, or other fac­tors,” said Ja­son Vey­sey, the deputy direc­tor for the Stock­holm En­vi­ron­ment In­sti­tute’s en­ergy mod­el­ing pro­gram.

“Peo­ple who have to drive may be neg­a­tively af­fected by an in­crease in fuel prices,” he said. “How­ever, it’s worth un­der­lin­ing that TCI is sup­posed to be a cap-and-div­i­dend pro­gram, in which higher costs for the most vul­ner­a­ble are mit­i­gated by the div­i­dends.”

The pact has been praised by many of the re­gion’s busi­ness, health and en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers, in­clud­ing Mas­sachusetts Repub­li­can Gov. Char­lie Baker. He touted the pact in his State of the Com­mon­wealth ad­dress last week as part of his plan for the state to reach net-zero green­house gas emis­sions by 2050.

Other gov­er­nors also ap­pear sup­port­ive.

J.J. Ab­bott, press sec­re­tary for Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said the state was “com­mit­ted to be­ing a part of the TCI con­ver­sa­tions,” but would make no de­ci­sion on join­ing “un­til the pro­gram is fully de­signed.” Josh Block, a spokesman for Rhode Is­land’s Demo­cratic Gov. Gina Rai­mondo, said she is “fully com­mit­ted to the goals of the Trans­porta­tion Cli­mate Ini­tia­tive,” but that the spe­cific statu­tory and reg­u­la­tory changes needed to meet those goals “will be the source of pub­lic dis­cus­sion and in­put over the com­ing year.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this April 10 file photo, rush-hour traf­fic heads east (left) and west (right) along the Schuylkill Ex­press­way in Philadelph­ia.

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