A Rhode Island legislative panel got the ball rolling on considering a regional climate pact to facilitate transportation work and limit emissions from road, rail and air sources. Fuel tax increases are expected to result from the adoption of the plan.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture recently met to discuss an invoice to officially join a regional climate pact called the Transport and Climate Initiative.

Context of the initiative

Late last year, then Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, along with the Governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts, and the Mayor of Washington, DC, signed a protocol of agreement declaring their intention to strengthen transport financing and reduce emissions through the regional cap and investment program.

Each participating state is responsible for approving the final tax plan. Fuel costs are expected to initially increase by 5 to 17 cents per gallon.

According to a press release, the Transportation and Climate Initiative requires major suppliers of gasoline and diesel to buy so-called allowances as part of a cap-and-trade plan. Essentially, companies would be limited to the amount of carbon dioxide they could emit. After reaching its limit, a business could pay the government a certain amount to go beyond that limit. The allowances that a business could buy would decrease each year.

The initiative is touted as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in the region by 26% from 2022 to 2032.

The program is expected to generate around $ 3 billion over the next decade. Participating states are expected to use this money to invest in “clean transportation” options and to help stimulate economic recovery from the pandemic.

In order to compensate for the quota purchases, fuel prices are expected to increase.

Rhode Island Details

Dubbed the Transportation Emissions and Mobile Community Act, Rhode Island’s law would establish a statutory framework for the adoption of the program. Specifically, regulatory authorities, legal compliance obligations and auction carbon quotas 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 to all Rhode Islanders, while dramatically reducing pollution.

Sen Alana DiMario, D-Narragansett, said the transportation sector is the state’s largest source of carbon emissions with 36% of greenhouse gas emissions.

“There is a broad consensus that we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions,” DiMario said in prepared remarks. “The TEAM Community Act is the blueprint we need to move forward on this path.”

The bill would direct 35% of the program’s products to communities described as the hardest hit by transportation emissions.

Concerns expressed

Republicans on the committee say the program is essentially a fuel tax increase that would trigger financial punishment for rural residents who have to drive to get around. They add that road users around the state and business owners would also be overwhelmed by the plan.

“It will take money away from people and redistribute it, which I think is discrimination because of where we live,” said Senator Gordon Rogers, R-Foster.

The committee did not vote on S872. The home version, H6310, has not yet been considered by the House Finance Committee.

Connecticut Legislative Committee supports efforts

In Connecticut, the Joint Committee on the Environment recently voted on party principles to advance a bill to join the regional climate pact.

Rep. Stephen Harding Jr., R-Brookfield, told committee members that “this is really a gas tax increase” of at least five cents.

Republican lawmakers have also expressed concern that the revenue collected will be used for other purposes. As a result, road users would again be called upon to bear additional costs.

“We have seen ’embezzled’ funds even after implementing constitutional amendments to protect those funds,” Harding said. “I seriously wonder whether or not these funds are really going to go to the areas that all of us on this committee are working hard to (make sure they go where they are) intended to go.”

SB884 awaits further consideration in the Connecticut House and Senate before it can gain entry into the governor’s office. LL

More landline coverage of news from Rhode Island.

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