By ROB SMITH/ecoRI News staff
Elected officials from across southern New England are calling on their states to ratify the Transportation & Climate Initiative and ensure a dedicated stream of funding to help mitigate the climate crisis.
Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) noted during an Oct. 13 press conference that 120 elected officials from all three states have signed a letter urging their states to pass the program designed to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.
The region’s transportation sector remains the largest source of greenhouse-gas pollution, accounting for 36 percent of emissions in Rhode Island, 43 percent in Massachusetts, and 38 percent in Connecticut. The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) would mandate a reduction of 80-100 percent of transportation emissions by 2050.
TCI supporters emphasize the program is more than an environmental initiative; it is also a way to tackle public-health problems and build up marginalized communities.
“In South Providence, thousands of families live in close proximity to Route 95 and other transportation infrastructure. They suffer the worst asthma rates in our state, which already has the worst asthma rates in the nation,” said Rhode Island state Sen. Meghan Kallman, D-Pawtucket.
Elected officials plan on using future TCI funds on expanding transit service, switching buses to electric, making improvements to train lines, and incorporating safer street programs in their states. Increasing transit usage is key to meeting the emission standards for each state.
Additionally, TCI sets aside money for communities overburden with pollution. In Connecticut, for instance, communities with a majority of Black and Brown residents experience 66 percent more pollution than predominately White communities.
TCI is a regional cap-and-invest program designed to reduce vehicle emissions by 26 percent by 2032. Fuel suppliers would be required to buy allowances for the carbon that will result from the fuel they sell. The program is expected to generate $3 billion over ten years for the participating governments to invest in green transportation options.
Rhode Island’s revenue from the program is projected to be about $20 million annually. Former Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2020 to join the initiative along with Connecticut, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
Lawmakers were keen to emphasize the need for states to act on climate change without waiting for federal assistance. Connecticut state Sen. William Haskell said lawmakers know how much federal funding they can expect to receive from the latest infrastructure bill making its way through Congress, but funding will be reliant on the state government having matching funds.
“Connecticut would have to provide $184 million in matching funds,” he said. “Our state transportation fund is close to insolvency.”
Emily Norton, a council member in Newton, Mass., stressed the money TCI could bring into cash-strapped municipalities for cleaner transportation and other climate-related mitigation efforts.
“The fact it’s dedicated funding is everything,” Norton said. “When you have to beg and plead and you don’t know if the money will be there every year, you can’t plan for stuff, especially anything big and bold.”
State legislatures must pass legislation to officially join TCI. Last May, Rhode Island state Sen. Alana DiMario, D-Narragansett, and state Rep. Terri Cortviend, D-Portsmouth, introduced the Transportation Emissions and Mobile (TEAM) Community Act in the General Assembly. The legislation provides a regulatory framework needed to join TCI.
The legislation would create an equity and environmental-justice advisory board to oversee the project’s requirements and ensure that the minimum 35 percent investment of proceeds from the program go toward cleaner transportation projects for the underserved.
The TEAM Community Act has support from the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, Clear Water Action, Climate Action RI, the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, and the Coalition for a Better Business Environment. It passed the Senate last session, but died in the House waiting for consideration.
Kallman said she was confident the TEAM Act would pass through the Senate again during the next session, but encouraged community members to contact their representatives to ensure its passage in the other chamber.
“Working with community partners, including the Acadia Center, building up those collaborations particularly in the House, is gonna be important to get it across the finish line,” she said.