Vermont has declined for now to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional effort to cut carbon emissions over the next decade.
The Scott administration will continue to participate in multi-state discussions about the program, but will not commit to the carbon reduction plan this year.
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., are the only jurisdictions that signed on to the new program, which aims to cut carbon emissions 26% between 2022 and 2032. Vermont and other states could still join the program in the coming years.
Over the next decade, the program is projected to generate a total of $3 billion in revenue for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and D.C. The money will be invested in efforts to combat climate change, the Georgetown Climate Center announced on Monday. The group has facilitated the TCI discussions.
Vermont, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia were all part of the discussion. While the eight states decided not to sign on now, they have all committed to continue developing the program and could opt in later.
The initiative raises money by charging companies that bring fuel into participating states. Fuel importers will buy emissions allowances at auction, based on how much on-road gasoline and diesel they sell in each state.
States can invest that money in carbon-cutting measures, such as public transit, electric vehicle incentives, broadband expansion and “incentives for continued telecommuting to reduce congestion,” according to the climate center.
While environmental activists hail the proposal, others worry it will lead to higher gasoline prices in the next decade. Projections show a five-cent increase for a gallon of gas in 2022, rising to 10 cents in the next decade, said Peter Walke, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. He has represented Vermont in TCI discussions.
Rebecca Kelley, a spokesperson for the governor, said the administration “has always been clear that working to address transportation emissions that impact climate change is critical.”
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But she said Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has concerns about “increasing costs on Vermonters, especially those in rural areas who must travel for work.”
With the potential for federal action on climate change under President-elect Joe Biden, and with the new Vermont Climate Council working on its own plan to cut carbon emissions, “the timing and questions on the strategy are also factors,” Kelley said. “Ultimately, there are too many unknowns, and not enough to demonstrate the benefit for Vermont, to move forward on such a consequential initiative.
“But, again, we will be staying at the table while we work on our own plan through the council, and continue our current work on climate change, which is an approach most of the states involved in the TCI process are taking,” she said.
In a joint statement on Monday, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Vermont Public Interest Group and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility said Vermont imports 100% of its oil and gas.
With other states in the region joining the program, “Vermonters will likely pay TCI’s compliance costs without receiving any of the benefits,” the groups said.
They urged Scott and the Vermont Climate Council, whose job is cutting emissions in the state in the coming years, to look closely at TCI.
“TCI is not a silver-bullet solution by any means, but it’s one important foot forward. It offers a much-needed revenue stream to invest in 21st-century transportation options and solutions that, in particular, serve lower-income and more vulnerable Vermonters well,” said Johanna Miller, the energy and climate program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
Walke said Vermont will stay in the TCI talks and will help other states develop the details of the regional program.
“We have been involved the whole time. We’ve had staff participating in a lot of the workgroups to make sure that the program is stood up in a functional way so that if Vermont chooses to participate in the future, then we’re ready,” Walke said.
“There’s a lot more left to do, and we’ll be right at the table for all of it,” Walke said.
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