Rhode Island panel discusses regional climate pact
May 25, 2021
A Rhode Island legislative panel has started the ball rolling on consideration of a regional climate pact to aid transportation work and limit emissions from road, rail and air sources. Fuel tax increases are expected to result from adoption of the plan.
The Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee met recently to discuss a bill to formally join a regional climate pact dubbed the Transportation and Climate Initiative.
Late last year, then-Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo along with governors in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and the mayor of Washington, D.C., signed a memorandum of understanding stating their intention to bolster transportation funding and reduce emissions via the regional cap-and-invest program.
Each participating state is responsible for approving the final tax plan. The expectation is fuel costs could initially increase 5 to 17 cents per gallon.
According to a news release, the Transportation and Climate Initiative requires large gasoline and diesel suppliers to buy what are called allowances in a “cap-and-trade” plan. Essentially, companies would be limited to how much carbon dioxide they could emit. After reaching its cap, a company could pay the government a certain amount of money to go beyond that limit. Allowances a company could purchase would decline each year.
The initiative is touted as a means to cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in the region by 26% from 2022 to 2032.
The program is estimated to generate about $3 billion over the next decade. Participating states are expected to use that money to invest in “clean transportation” options and to help stimulate economic recovery from the pandemic.
In order to make up for allowance purchases, fuel prices are expected to rise.
Rhode Island details
Dubbed the Transportation Emissions and Mobile Community Act, the Rhode Island legislation would set statutory framework for adoption of the program. Specifically, regulatory authorities, legal compliance obligations, and carbon allowances for auction would be established.
The legislation – S872 – is described by supporters as providing the funding the state needs to make clean transportation options available and affordable for all Rhode Islanders, while significantly reducing pollution.
Sen Alana DiMario, D-Narragansett, said the transportation sector is the largest source of carbon emissions in the state at 36% of greenhouse gas emissions.
“There’s broad consensus that we have to drastically reduce our carbon emissions,” DiMario, said in prepared remarks. “The TEAM Community Act is the plan we need to get moving on that track.”
The legislation would route 35% of proceeds from the program to communities described as the hardest hit by transportation emissions.
“Let’s talk about reality…if I burn through 1000s of gallons of fuel in one snowstorm to keep the roads clean, we’re going to be paralyzed if we do switch to electric…and how many vehicles and I going to need?” -Sen. Rogers pic.twitter.com/37AzTOkOIK
— RI Senate Republicans (@RISenateGOP) May 20, 2021
Republicans on the committee say the program is essentially a fuel tax increase that would trigger a financial punishment for rural residents who must drive to get around. They add that road users around the state and business owners would also be burdened by the plan.
“It will take money away from people and redistribute it, which I feel is discrimination because of where we live,” testified Sen. Gordon Rogers, R-Foster.
The committee did not vote on S872. The House version, H6310, has yet to receive consideration in the House Finance Committee.
Connecticut legislative panel backs effort
In Connecticut, the Joint Committee on Environment voted recently along party lines to advance a bill to join the regional climate pact.
Rep. Stephen Harding Jr., R-Brookfield, told committee members “it truly is a gas tax increase” of at least five cents.
Republican lawmakers also voiced concern the revenue raised would be used for other purposes. As a result, road users would again be called upon to foot additional costs.
“We’ve seen funds ‘diverted’ even after we have implemented constitutional amendments to protect these funds,” Harding said. “I have serious questions whether or not these funds are truly going to go to the areas which all of us on this committee are working hard to (ensure it goes to where it is) intended to go towards.”
SB884 awaits further consideration in the Connecticut House and Senate before it can advance to the governor’s desk. LL
More Land Line coverage of news from Rhode Island.