By John Moritz, CT Insider, May 3, 2023

(Photo credit: File photo / Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media)

A bill that would empower Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration to take a heavier hand in regulating climate-altering carbon emissions is in jeopardy this week after members of the legislature’s budget-writing committee opted to pass over the proposal.

On Monday, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee failed to consider Senate Bill 1145, a controversial bill that advocates said would help get the state on track toward meeting its goal of cutting emissions to 80 percent below 2001 levels by 2050, but which critics had lambasted as an attempt at bureaucratic overreach. 

The lack of action by the committee led one of the bill’s chief proponents, state Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, to remark Tuesday that the proposal is “dead,” at least in its current form.

“Just because it’s a good idea, if it’s not going to be paid for in the budget… then we’ve got a problem,” Gresko said. 

According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would have had to spend roughly $750,000 to nearly $1 million a year to hire staff to implement the new regulations. 

Republicans and other opponents of the bill, chiefly the home oil and gas industry, argued that the more of the costs of the bill would be borne by consumers through higher energy prices, even likening the proposal to a doomed effort to launch a regional cap-and-trade program on vehicle emissions among the Northeastern states.

While advocates brushed aside that comparison, the bill would have actually taken a much broader approach to reining in emissions by allowing DEEP to set “sector-specific subtargets” on a range of industries such as manufacturing, natural gas distribution, and home heating and cooling. Companies whose emissions contributed to exceeding those targets could be fined up to $25,000 per day for violations under the proposed law.
After an aggressive lobbying campaign against the bill by the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, the group’s president, Chris Herb, said he had heard from several lawmakers who were wary of the potential costs associated with the bill, but that the overarching concern — even among Democrats — was the level of authority being delegated to an administrative agency. 

“They were not willing to cede that power to DEEP to tax fuel,” Herb said Tuesday.  “I think that’s what toppled it.”

Lamont’s DEEP commissioner, Katie Dykes, had argued that such authority was necessary for the agency to get the state on track toward meeting the economy-wide targets that were approved by lawmakers more than a decade ago, and which scientists say are necessary to help avoid the most dire impacts of climate change.

Last week, DEEP reported that while the state met one of its interim goals of reducing emissions by 10 percent by 2020, the amount of carbon released into Connecticut’s atmosphere actually increased then next year as drivers returned to the road amid the pandemic recovery. 

“If we’re going to work on these goals here and there when it’s convenient, then we’re never going to get there,” said Nathan Frohling, the director of external affairs for the Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, which supported the bill.

Lamont’s office on Tuesday referred comments about the climate legislation to DEEP, which released a statement defending the proposal as similar to regulatory frameworks in place in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

“Climate change pollution’s public health and economic costs to Connecticut are already being felt, particularly by the most vulnerable in our state, which is one of the reasons why the legislature passed mandated targets to reduce greenhouse gas pollution in the first place,” said the statement from a spokesman, Will Healey.
With more than five weeks to go in this legislative session, the bill could still reappear through language inserted into other, surviving pieces of legislation, an avenue that Gresko — who co-chairs the Environment Committee from which the bill originated — said that he was continuing to explore. 

Still, one factor that appears to have weighed down the bill’s chances is a lack of enthusiasm among lawmakers.

“This bill was not asked for by anybody, not the administration, to pass,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee.

With budget negotiations ongoing and more than 90 items of the committee’s agenda Monday, Osten said the climate legislation was simply one of dozens of bills that died due to a lack of time and proper support. Other victims included Environment Committee bills to phase-out the use of polystyrene foam containers, as well as a bill requiring towns to set up food scrap diversion programs. 

The Appropriations Committee did vote to advance legislation to bolster DEEP’s environmental justice program, as well as proposed bans on certain rodenticides and pesticides used in non-agricultural settings.  

On Tuesday, a centerpiece of Lamont’s environmental agenda — his proposal to address the state’s growing trash problems through increased recycling and food-scrap diversion — avoided a similar fate as the climate bill when the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee voted to advance the proposal, despite some lingering concerns among lawmakers.