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N.E. Govs Slow to Embrace Climate Pact 01/27 06:06

   CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Supporters of a regional pact that would tackle 
transportation emissions are struggling to win over several New England 
governors concerned that the climate change initiative will increase gas 
prices. 

   After the Transportation and Climate Initiative was announced last month, 
New Hampshire's Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said the state won't join, citing 
fears of a gas price hike. Vermont's Republican Gov. Phil Scott said he 
couldn't support the initiative if it amounts to a tax on carbon. A spokesman 
for Maine's Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said the state has yet to sign a draft 
memorandum of understanding for the TCI, citing the unique challenges of 
addressing transportation in a rural state. 

   The initiative is aimed at a dozen Northeast and mid-Atlantic states and 
would take effect in 2022. It would address pollution from transportation --- 
which represents 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the region, the largest 
source of emissions. The area has tens of millions of registered vehicles.

   New Jersey has not committed to implementing the initiative while a 
spokesman for Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said his administration was still 
examining it. Virginia is also reviewing the draft memorandum.

   "I am happy to see that other Governors are following my lead in rightfully 
sounding the alarm on this new gas tax," Sununu said in a statement. "New 
Hampshire is proof that the best environmental stewardship can be achieved 
without massive tax schemes." 

   Many of the states are already part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas 
Initiative, which covers 10 states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic and 
targets emissions from the power sector. 

   Under the agreement, wholesale fuel companies would be required to purchase 
pollution allowances at auction. The sale of those allowances could generate 
billions for states to invest in carbon-reducing transportation options --- 
like electric buses, electric car charging stations, bike lanes and sidewalks. 

   The initiative could lead to emissions reductions in the region by as much 
as 25% by 2032. But the opposition appears be around a potential gas price 
hike. If fuel companies pass the cost of the allowances onto consumers, the 
price of gas in the region could climb by five cents to 17 cents per gallon in 
2022, when the pact would take effect.

   Among the pact's opponents is Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group 
founded by the billionaire Koch brothers. The group's New Hampshire chapter 
came out against the TCI the same day as Sununu, calling the initiative a 
top-down government mandate that would "punish hardworking Granite Staters."

   Supporters of the TCI said the fears over gas prices are overblown and 
ignore the initiative's potential benefits.

   "Personally I think this is political grandstanding," said Timmons Roberts, 
a professor of environmental studies at Brown University. "This is the 
incremental change, it would be over 12 years. This is just using a 
well-meaning effort as a whipping boy." 

   But Roberts and others acknowledge that the pact needs to address the 
concerns of low-income and working families who must drive long distances for 
work or school.

   "Some people positively opt into this lifestyle, but many don't. They live 
where they live because of family, lack of economic mobility, or other 
factors," said Jason Veysey, the deputy director for the Stockholm Environment 
Institute's energy modeling program.

   "People who have to drive may be negatively affected by an increase in fuel 
prices," he said. "However, it's worth underlining that TCI is supposed to be a 
cap-and-dividend program, in which higher costs for the most vulnerable are 
mitigated by the dividends."

   The pact has been praised by many of the region's business, health and 
environmental leaders, including Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. 
He touted the pact in his State of the Commonwealth address last week as part 
of his plan for the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

   Other governors also appear supportive.

   J.J. Abbott, press secretary for Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said 
the state was "committed to being a part of the TCI conversations," but would 
make no decision on joining "until the program is fully designed." Josh Block, 
a spokesman for Rhode Island's Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, said she is 
"fully committed to the goals of the Transportation Climate Initiative," but 
that the specific statutory and regulatory changes needed to meet those goals 
"will be the source of public discussion and input over the coming year."

   Jordan Stutt, the carbon programs director of the Acadia Center, an 
environmental research and advocacy nonprofit, said states understand the need 
to address transport emissions. The initiative could also help improve air 
quality, boost economies and improve transport, especially in rural areas, he 
said.

   According to information on the TCI website, modeling has showing public 
health benefits of as much as $10 billion annually by 2032, including over 
1,000 fewer premature deaths. It would also generate up to $7 billion annually 
that could be invested into expanding transport choices for rural, urban and 
suburban communities.

   "Without any viable alternative to this program, the states will not be able 
to achieve their climate goals," Stutt said.


(KR)

 
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