The Middletown Common Council narrowly passed a resolution (6-4-1) on Monday, Dec. 6 to support Connecticut’s Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P or TCI), which is a multi-state plan that aims to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by transportation. The decision was made at a regularly scheduled Common Council meeting, which participants could attend in person at City Hall, via a livestream on WebEx, or on the City of Middletown Facebook. The city’s Clean Energy Task Force introduced the resolution and Council Member Ed Ford Jr. (R) and Council Member and Deputy Mayor Vinnie Loffredo (D) co-sponsored it.
In Connecticut, the transportation sector is responsible for 70% of air pollution and 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. The TCI, which places a cap on gasoline and diesel distribution, was introduced in 2010 and garnered support from various Northeastern states as well as the District of Columbia.
In December 2020, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding that they would work together to cut transportation pollution. However, in June 2021, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed over the TCI, and, on Nov. 16, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont formally announced that he would no longer pursue the initiative. Shortly after, both Massachusetts and Rhode Island pulled out of the agreement. The Common Council’s proposed resolution was an attempt to show Middletown’s support for the initiative, despite the states’ decision.
During the public hearing on the agenda, Alex Rodriguez, a climate advocate with Save the Sound in New Haven, testified in support of the resolution.
“Despite the fear-mongering promoted by natural gas lobby this year, my organization, community members, racial justice and faith-based groups, and many Connecticut residents, in general, support the Transportation Climate Initiative as it is a pathway for a more equitable, clean, and sustainable transportation system in our state,” Rodriguez said. “We believe it is very important to keep the drumbeat going strong with regard to climate action. It was this Council that previously supported a climate emergency resolution and signed that into fruition as well. I think passing this Transportation Climate Initiative tonight is complementary of that previous resolution.”
Rodriguez explained that the initiative will boost Connecticut’s economy by bringing in investments. He also emphasized that the initiative will help with current sustainability goals.
“We’re required, in Connecticut, to meet greenhouse gas goals of 45% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 and 80% reduction by 2050,” Rodriguez said. “This will put us on track to meet those goals and it would also significantly improve air quality in Middletown and throughout Connecticut. Transportation pollution is the leading source of emissions in the state, and it’s time we took a hard look at the transportation sector and work with the state toward reducing emissions in this sector.”
Rodriguez also highlighted Middletown’s prior sustainability projects, adding that the resolution will raise attention to issues concerning both transportation and sustainability.
“This city brought in the first electric school bus this year, you all made history, and I think more investments like that, as well as walkable and bikeable transportation and improved transit, will come to fruition with Middletown’s leadership,” Rodriguez said.
Executive Director of the Jonah Center for Earth and Art John Hall also spoke in support of the resolution, first providing a brief summary of the initiative’s history and why he believed it failed previously.
“This was before the Connecticut General Assembly in the last session,” Hall said. “It passed the Environment Committee but failed to get a vote on either the floor of the House or the Senate because the lobby against this initiative from the gas and oil industry was so intense that the leadership felt they didn’t have the votes and didn’t want to bring it to a vote.”
Hall highlighted that the potential for gas prices to rise likely caused Lamont to withdraw his support.
“I was working with others to advance this at the city level when, due to the increase in gas prices recently, the governor withdrew, not exactly support for the transportation climate initiative, but he said he wasn’t going to be pursuing it,” Hall said. “There was a great outcry at that announcement and then the governor backtracked a bit and agreed he would sign it. This is all to say that any climate action, especially a transportation climate initiative, is going to be opposed by those who make profits from selling gas and oil and want those profits to be as wide as possible and keep gas prices low so the use continues to be high.”
Additionally, Hall explained that lobbyists argue that high gas prices would disproportionately hurt the poor. He argued, however, that this logic is flawed.
“Those who oppose that on the basis of hurting the poor, however, seem to be the last to support measures to actually help the poor,” Hall said. “If they really wanted to help the poor, they could promote such measures as earned income tax credit and child tax credit that really do help the poor. What they don’t mention, though, is the high cost born by the poor because of dirty transportation.”
Hall also pointed out that pollution affects different communities in different ways.
“Not only do we have a climate problem with transportation emissions, but we have a particulate matter issue that disproportionately affects those who live in congested areas and near major highways where asthma rates are high and the particulates from vehicle pollution really hurt those vulnerable populations,” Hall said.
Connecticut Energy Marketers Association President Christian A. Herb expressed his wariness surrounding the initiative in a letter addressed to Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14, which Common Council Clerk Linda Reed read out loud during the meeting.
“This is certainly a laudable objective, who doesn’t want to see climate change stop?” Herb wrote. “Who doesn’t want to save lives of children? But there are unintended consequences that will result from TCI.”
In the letter, Herb chronicled Lamont’s decision to pull out of the TCI, as well as the subsequent withdrawals of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and argued that the TCI was a regressive tax.
“The main concern by Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island about TCI was that it would raise the cost of gasoline, a regressive tax, as [Connecticut State Senator Martin Looney (D)] put it, at a time when fuel taxes are already high,” Herb wrote. “The reason for this is that when a fuel supplier wants to sell fuel, under TCI, it must first buy fuel allowances made available at regional quarterly auctions. Each allowance is described as a metric ton of CO2 that would be emitted from transportation fuels. This is the equivalence of about 120 gallons of fuel.”
These auctions, Herb argued, would become very competitive.
“You can view these auctions like big eBay auctions,” Herb wrote. “There are dozens of companies bidding on a limited supply of fuel allowances. Those that bid high win, and get the fuel they need to sell. Those that lose don’t get to sell any fuel. Now, these are gasoline distributors bidding against each other in competitive auctions. You know how gas stations can be ruthlessly competitive against each other on the local streets of Middletown. You can bet the big suppliers will try to outbid the small suppliers in the TCI auction.”
Herb reasoned that there would be a fiscal impact as well.
“The forced reduction of fuel sales by almost 500 million gallons will reduce fuel taxes collected by the state by 1.2 billion dollars, which means less funding for the special transportation fund for road and infrastructure repair,” Herb wrote.
The letter reading was cut off after five minutes, per meeting guidelines, and the Council moved on to other matters.
After introducing the resolution, Ford Jr. explained his and Loffredo’s rationale behind the movement, emphasizing the Council’s climate emergency declaration and the need to continue the momentum.
“Last September, we made a climate emergency, we declared that, and I think that pushing this and taking some action is better than inaction at this point,” Ford Jr. said. “There’s a lot of different things that we need to try and improve on in terms of air quality and the risk of respiratory diseases that can happen for several kids in inner cities. The reduction of greenhouse gases emissions that we’re trying to work towards. There’s a lot of different initiatives that I believe this legislation could try and help us improve on in our environment. I would like to see something happen at the end of the day.”
Majority Leader Eugene Nocera (D) immediately expressed his support.
“I enthusiastically support this resolution, fully aware that it’s in its beginning stages, and I have full confidence that our state elected officials will get this to the finish line,” Nocera said. “We understand that there are a lot of forces out there and we have to listen, as we heard tonight, to both sides of this issue. There’s no question in my mind. We stand to benefit far more than any concerns that this [climate change] is going to be the end of the world.”
Council Member Ed McKeon (D) also expressed his support, echoing Nocera’s sentiments regarding the impending climate crisis and asserting that passing this resolution acts as a symbol of their commitment to fighting it.
“What we’re really facing is the end of the world,” McKeon said.“This is an existential crisis that we’re facing…. We’re having king tides, we’re having sunny day floods, we’re having meltdowns of polar ice caps. This [initiative] is a small act. Our act right now is a symbolic act but we need to urge our representatives at the state to move this forward despite any political ramifications they might feel.”
Council Member Anthony Mangiafico (D), however, shared that he had many issues with the resolution, and did not find it impactful.
“As mentioned, the governor has indicated this will not be one of his priorities this year,” Mangiafico said. “Also, if the state legislature did not pass this earlier this year when gas prices were low, I don’t see this happening when gas prices are so high. Also, our surrounding states are no longer supporting this, either. Massachusetts and Rhode Island have both dropped out of TCI. I’m not sure that voting for something that doesn’t seem to be heading into law is the best use of the Council’s time. I wholeheartedly agree we need to act on climate change, but there are much better ways to do this than raising the price of gas for working-class families.”
Minority Leader Philip J. Pessina (R) explained that while he does support the resolution, he has some reservations.
“My main concern and my caveat is—because I will be supporting it—is just be careful,” Pessina said. “Let’s look at not including another regressive tax on our seniors, on our families, on our poor. All you have to do is drive down gasoline alley and see the price of gas. It’s edging up to four dollars. I’m a little fearful, but I’m hopeful. I’m fearful that another tax, another money burden on those that can’t afford it, will occur when this goes forward…. I will be supporting it, but I will be also watching it and I ask everyone’s indulgence, especially our state legislatures.”
Deputy Majority Leader Grady L. Faulkner Jr. (D) announced his decision to abstain from the vote.
“I think we’ve made our point on this subject and we put that in writing,” Faulkner Jr. said. “What we haven’t done is really get our people who are sleeping on the streets any resolutions. I think we should focus on our priorities on the things that are right on our doorstep and take care of those.”
Deputy Minority Leader Anthony Gennaro Sr. (R) agreed with Mangiafico, explaining that, while he wants to do more to delay the effects of climate change, the TCI is not enough.
“We do need to do more,” Gennaro said. “I’m going to vote no tonight because I don’t think it does enough and is not realistic to what needs to be done. I worry about the price of oil and gas for our seniors. This is not what it should be. A feel-good resolution is not enough…. This isn’t good enough. Go back to the drawing board and let’s do the right thing. So tonight, I will be voting no on it, and I think we should all aim to do better, and I hope that we can.”
Council Member Linda Salafia (R) also voiced disapproval, reiterating Gennaro’s beliefs that this would be a feel-good vote and expressing her concern with the possibility of gas rationing.
“This is a feel-good vote for us to support a concept,” Salafia said. “However, we don’t know what the actual impact is going to be. It’s great to say we don’t want to raise taxes on our seniors and people who cannot afford taxes, but we don’t know what those taxes are going to be. I’m also old enough to remember gas lines and not being able to get gas for our car. Just the idea that gas might possibly be rationed is enough to scare me into voting no for this. I just can’t do this. This is voting for something we don’t have total information on, and until there’s actually a plan in place with consequences outlined in detail, I’m a no.”
Loffredo addressed the group, reminding the Council of the role they have in the state legislature and how the initiative can be amended and urging them to move the vote forward.
Ford Jr. also spoke to the imperfection of the legislation.
“We’re not saying that we don’t have some sort of concerns with it, but, at the end of the day…my position is that I would rather have some sort of action taken than absolutely nothing happening,” Ford Jr. said. “As a person who has committed myself to that cause, of trying to improve our environment and trying to do better for our future generations, I can’t just simply just not say anything and not speak out and use my platform to encourage our state to take some action. They can try and do it in a way where it’s not a regressive task, they can work things out with the surplus, but at some point, we have to take some sort of action that’s effective. That’s where my vote lies and where it stands tonight.”
Before the vote, Nocera again highlighted the importance of taking climate action.
“This is the beginning of an important process that we have to allow our state to enter into to find solutions for our future,” Nocera said. “The date is out there. We have ’til 2030 to get the emissions under control in our state and our nation. That’s just right around the corner. We have work that we have to do and we have to be risk-takers to get it done.”
The resolution was then put to a vote. Ford Jr., Pessina, McKeon, Loffredo, Nocera, and Council Member Darnell H. Ford (D) voted in favor. Mangiafico, Gennaro, Salafia, and Council Member Meghan R. Carta (D) opposed. Faulkner abstained, and Council Member Jeanette Blackwell (D) was absent.
Although Hall was happy with the outcome of the resolution, he still believes that more needs to be done for climate action.
“I think it’s very important that we strive as a society to achieve these [climate] goals,” Hall said in an interview with The Argus. “We’ve done damage to the planet through our carbon emissions and poor people in other parts of the world are suffering from the consequences of this. We have a moral obligation and a practical self-interest in achieving these goals. Unfortunately, our society seems to be very slow to grasp the severity of the problem and to take meaningful action against it.”
According to Hall, passing such resolutions puts pressure on the state to reconsider the TCI, but Middletown can also take more steps to control emissions.
“TCI is a state initiative, it’s up to the state to enact it,” Hall said. “In a way, the passage of this resolution was somewhat symbolic and a messaging tool, really. But, the next step is, the city really needs to get a plan to control our own emissions.”
Hall believes that continued community pressure is crucial for tangible change.
“It’s up to the community to generate some pressure and support to do more, and that’s one of the things the Jonah Center is trying to do and our network Ecoin [Environmental Collective Impact Network] is trying to do…and continue to look for opportunities to do better,” Hall said. “There are many reasons why people are slow to take action, I understand. There’s a certain legitimacy to those reasons. But if we wait until climate action is easy, inexpensive, or convenient, or until everyone else is doing it, we’ll never take any action.”
Hannah Docter-Loeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.