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Climate modeling shows regional gas tax would have no effect on climate change

The Transportation and Climate Initiative is pushing for a regional cap and trade system on gasoline distributors to fight climate change, invest in mass transit and fight for climate justice, but scientific modeling suggests the program would have no impact on global temperatures.

Up to thirteen states on the eastern seaboard – including Connecticut — signed on to the initiative that could raise gasoline prices by 17 cents per gallon starting in 2022, with more price increases in the future as the emissions cap is lowered.

But the overall effect on the climate is too small to be measurable, according to climate modeling conducted by Brent Bennett Ph.D. of Life:Powered – the energy policy division of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Texas is not part of the TCI compact.

Bennett conducted the analysis using the MAGICC modeling system, the same climate modeling system used by the United Nations and the International Panel on Climate Change to measure the impact of policy changes on global temperatures.

The implementation of TCI would result in a temperature change of less than a thousandth of a degree – too small to be measurable.

Results from the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Induced Climate Change

For comparison, Bennett also ran projections showing temperature changes if the Northeast and all of the United States became carbon-neutral by the year 2030, which showed a maximum temperature reduction of .25 degrees Celsius by year 2100.

Although the figure may appear shocking, TCI’s own estimates for emissions reductions show there would only be 5 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2032 if the program was fully implemented, while the overall cost of the program to gasoline distributors – and potentially to drivers — would be nearly $7 billion per year.

TCI ran figures comparing implementation of their program to that of doing nothing, acknowledging that greater fuel efficiency, electric vehicles and current energy trends would already result in a 19 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2032.

Under TCI’s most stringent 25 percent cap, which would raise the price at the pump by 17 cents per gallon, the reduction in emissions would be 24 percent – a 5 percent increase over baseline.

The report estimates $10 billion in public health benefits and does note that potential roll backs of vehicle standards and low oil prices could reduce the baseline effects.

Although twelve states and Washington D.C. originally signed onto the TCI compact, some are now backing out as political pressure mounts over a possible hike in gas prices.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has already announced that his state will withdraw from the agreement, and states like Maine and Vermont appear to be wavering in their support. 

Gov. Dannel Malloy signed Connecticut onto the compact in 2018, largely leaving the prospect of an unpopular gas price increase in the hands of his replacement, Gov. Ned Lamont, who has expended enormous political energy in continuing Malloy’s fight to put tolls on Connecticut’s highways.

Lamont, like his predecessor, has committed to reducing carbon emissions in Connecticut.

In September, Lamont signed an executive order strengthening the powers and scope of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change, which was created by Malloy in 2015 to help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030. 

The order also directed the Department of Energy and Environmental Policy to “analyze pathways and recommend strategies for achieving a 100 percent zero carbon target for the electric sector by 2040,” according to the governor’s press release.

The governor has also supported efforts to establish off-shore electric wind turbines to help meet that goal. 

But Lamont has declined to say whether or not he ultimately supports TCI’s plan in recent weeks, despite meetings with two of TCI’s biggest supporters, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

TCI – which is funded by a variety of environmental and progressive foundations – says 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicles. The cap and trade system is designed to get people to ditch their cars for mass transit by increasing the cost of driving.

The initial emissions cap set by TCI would be lowered year over year by states based on their emissions goals, forcing gasoline distributors to purchase more “allowances.” The states would then decide how to use the proceeds from the purchase of allowances.

It is unclear, at this point, how much control the Connecticut legislature may have over joining the compact or setting the emissions cap moving forward.

TCI hopes to have all participating jurisdictions sign onto a memorandum of understanding by spring of 2020.

Whether Connecticut – a state with the seventh highest gas taxes and the highest electricity costs in the continental United States – will move forward with the agreement likely rests with the governor.

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  1. Mark stuhlman

    January 29, 2020 4:30 pm

    I continue to follow the news in Ct since my having left the state in 2015.
    This appears to be another half baked scheme on behalf of Ct politicians to show ” how much they care” about the concept of climate change. In reality it will only encourage others who are able to leave the state. Those who really care about lowering the carbon footprint would argue for more nuclear power. Wind and solar in Ct ain’t going to get you there.

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