The News-Times

Lamont says fossil fuel lobby helped derail CT’s regional climate initiative

- By John Moritz

Gov. Ned Lamont is placing some of the blame for his administra­tion’s failed attempt at joining a regional initiative to lower carbon emissions at the hands of fossil fuel lobbyists, saying last week that a pressure campaign waged by the industry led to tepid legislativ­e support and the ultimate downfall of the climate pact.

Speaking to reporters after announcing his own plans to improve energy efficiency through state government, Lamont reiterated his belief Thursday that the broader climate plan — the Transporta­tion and Climate Initiative — was effectivel­y dead for the upcoming legislativ­e session.

When asked whether industry lobbying played a role in the plan’s demise, Lamont said it appeared to have an effect on lawmakers, who were unable to muster enough support to hold a vote on the plan in either chamber.

“Let’s face it, you saw tolls and TCI, you saw the oil and petroleum lobbyists standing right there at the protests,” Lamont said of the opposition mounted earlier this year. “It was carefully orchestrat­ed, and they’re pretty aggressive.”

Lamont’s comments come on the heels of a recent report from researcher­s at Brown University, who determined that the $24 million spent on lobbying at the Connecticu­t General Assembly in recent years by business and utility interests dwarfed expenditur­es by those supporting renewable energy sources and environmen­tal causes.

That report sparked a backlash from representa­tives of the business community, who said it inaccurate­ly stated their level of involvemen­t on environmen­tal issues. Some lawmakers also cast doubt on the report, saying discussion­s around issues such as TCI are more complex than lobbying between competing interests.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, rebuffed any suggestion Thursday that industry lobbying swayed Democratic legislator­s to oppose the TCI. Other issues with the legislatio­n led to concerns within his caucus, Looney said, most notably a projected hike of 5 to 9 cents a gallon for gas.

“They certainly had no contact with me and I am not aware of any impact they had directly on legislator­s,” Looney said. “I almost never talk to those interests myself because they know I’m generally on the other side of their issues.”

Lamont also said he did not feel personally pressured by lobbyists to abandon the TCI.

“We’re not that chummy, so there wasn’t that much contact,” Lamont said Thursday.

Republican­s were critical of Lamont’s efforts to join the TCI, casting it as a “gas tax” that would weigh heavily on small businesses. GOP leaders in the House and Senate did not respond to requests for comment on Lamont’s remarks Thursday.

Lobbying aside, GOP opposition to the TCI also influenced the decision by lawmakers not to move forward with the controvers­ial bill ahead of an election year, state Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the legislatur­e’s Environmen­t Committee, said Thursday.

“I think the TCI was complicate­d, as much as I wanted to see it passed,” Cohen said. “There was a messaging machine out there and some of that had to do with lobbying. … But I think there was also a Republican messaging machine out there as well.”

State Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., D-Waterbury, a supporter of the TCI and member of the Environmen­t Committee, agreed with Lamont’s assessment Thursday that industry lobbying was effective at derailing the climate initiative, saying “that’s exactly what happened.”

“I won’t say something that I cannot back up, but lobbyists are very powerful and very influentia­l in this state,” Reyes said.

But critics of the Brown University report said it was skewed by statistics focusing on the total amount of lobbying expenditur­es by industry groups, when environmen­tal and energy-related issues make up only a portion of those group’s efforts.

For example Eric Gjede, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticu­t Business and Industry Associatio­n, said the group typically has six to 11 registered lobbyists, only one of whom focuses part time on energy and environmen­tal issues.

The report, however, flagged CBIA as the second-biggest source on energy-related lobbying, with $4.5 million spent over eight years.

“I think it’s nonsense and I think it also misstates our efforts in those areas,” Gjede said. “We are supportive of a clean environmen­t and no-carbon-related energy goals. … But we continue to remind the legislatur­e that Connecticu­t also has some of the highest utility costs in the country. If we’re going to get to those carbon-free goals, we also need to keep in mind the cost of getting there.”

Also, the CBIA did not take a public stance on the TCI, he said.

Eversource Energy, which was cited in the report as the biggest source of lobbying expenditur­es at $6.7 million, also took issue with the report’s conclusion­s. In a statement released through a spokesman, Eversource pointed to its own efforts to develop offshore wind projects and become carbon-neutral by 2030.

“Categorizi­ng Eversource as anti-climate clearly ignores the tremendous progress we’re making on behalf of our customers to advance clean energy, and we will remain focused on continued collaborat­ion with stakeholde­rs at all levels to solve the complex energy challenges that we share as a state and region,” spokesman Mitch Gross said.

The authors of the report did not respond to requests for comment.

Cohen said Thursday that she was “frustrated” by industry groups touting their own environmen­tal initiative­s after lobbying against initiative­s such as the TCI.

“On the one hand, they’re saying that climate is important to us and we’re taking all these big strides,” she said. “On the other hand, they’re paying millions of dollars to fight climate action.”

The report found that environmen­tal organizati­ons have spent about $2.7 million on lobbying since 2013, or approximat­ely one-eighth the amount spent by electric and gas utilities. During that same time period, the researcher­s found that public testimony was overwhelmi­ngly in favor of renewable energy and climate change legislatio­n.

“It’s not just the money, it’s how it‘s being spent,” said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticu­t League of Conservati­on Voters. “Climate and clean energy are just hugely complex issues, and they have the resources to be in front of lawmakers, even especially now when you can’t be like the rest of us, up at the Capitol, pulling lawmakers aside, answering questions, letting them know what concerns are and what to understand about particular legislatio­n.”

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