Save the Sound, one of Connecticut’s environmental advocacy groups pushing hard for the Transportation and Climate Initiative program, is ramping up their lobbying efforts in September, according to filings with the Office of State Ethics.
Save the Sound has so far spent over $100,000 on lobbying for the year and has now hired two more lobbying firms at a cost of $21,500 for roughly a month and a half of work, including Roy Occhiogrosso, former senior advisor to Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Environmental and activist groups are advocating for a special session to pass legislation enabling Connecticut to participate in the TCI program, which was not taken up by the General Assembly during the 2021 session.
The TCI program would place a declining cap on emissions and require gasoline wholesalers and distributors to purchase emission credits at auction. The money would then be funneled to the state of Connecticut to invest in electric vehicles, electric vehicle infrastructure, public transportation and climate justice initiatives in cities.
Opponents argue the program will cause a rise in gasoline prices, effectively making it another tax on Connecticut drivers who already pay the highest gasoline taxes in New England.
Save the Sound’s recent lobbyist contracts and advertising efforts indicate they are making a push for more public support by contracting with Innovate & Organize, LLC, a firm that lists grass-roots organizing as one of its specialties.
According to the filings, Innovate & Organize will receive $9,000 for the month of September to generate mailers and conduct phone solicitations regarding the environment and transportation.
Occhiogrosso, who was part of Gov. Lamont’s unsuccessful push to establish electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways, is receiving $12,500 to lobby the governor and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Occhiogrosso helped author a playbook for pitching tolls to lawmakers and the public.
Hiring extra lobbyists for the environmental group constitutes a rather large expenditure. The total cost for Occhiogrosso and Innovate & Organize for roughly one month of work totals $21,500, the same amount Save the Sound paid their normal contract lobbyist for nine months of work during 2021.
The spend comes during a time when the legislature is not in session but will likely reconvene to at least vote on whether or not to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers at the end of September.
Save the Sound has also been advertising heavily for TCI on the internet, directing users to a website called CT’s Transportation Future, touting the benefits of the TCI program and allowing users to directly email a message to their legislator and listing the phone numbers for Democrat leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Save the Sound was not alone in lobbying for the TCI program during 2021 and lists many of their supportive partners on the CT’s Transportation Future website, including the Acadia Center, which has spent $11,162.88 for the year.
Not included in the coalition, however, was BP America which ran extensive media ads supporting the TCI program.
Over the course of 2021 so far, BP spent $368,565.42 on lobbying, with most of those funds — $285,359.05 – being spent during the second quarter of 2021 on paid media communication. BP America has not yet listed any spending for the summer months.
Gov. Lamont is also stepping up his efforts, along with DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes, after they announced that Connecticut’s emissions increased slightly during 2018, according to DEEP’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report.
In 2008, the Connecticut legislature established emissions reduction goals, including lowering emissions to 10 percent lower than 1990 emission levels by 2020.
According to the report, vehicle fuel efficiency has increased but so has the number of miles people are driving. As of 2018, emissions in Connecticut are 7.1 percent lower than in 1990, and the report largely blames the transportation sector for the 2.7 percent uptick in greenhouse gas emissions between 2017 and 2018.
Lamont, Dykes and environmental groups see the TCI program as a way to lower emissions in the state through using emission credit auctions to pay for more electric vehicles and other mitigation strategies to reduce air pollution.
Although TCI says its program will lower emissions by 26 percent over ten years, the organization also acknowledges that emissions will decline “naturally” by 24-25 percent during that same time frame as vehicles become more efficient.
Meanwhile, Connecticut Republicans have been holding public rallies around the state protesting the “TCI gas tax,” the most recent taking place in Stratford.
A recent poll released by the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association found that the vast majority of polled Connecticut residents were unhappy with the current price of gasoline and Connecticut’s gasoline taxes and opposed any increase to those prices through the imposition of the TCI program.
“The results of this poll overwhelmingly demonstrate that Connecticut residents are unwilling to tolerate TCI and the cost impact it will have on what are already the highest gasoline taxes in New England,” said Chris Herb, executive director of CEMA. “Why should low-income residents be assessed new taxes and fees to fund expensive Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations for the wealth residents to use?”
Although the push for TCI is experiencing renewed vigor in Connecticut, the program has suffered some setbacks: the program was originally envisioned as a regional compact between 12 states and Washington D.C. but thus far only Massachusetts and Washington D.C. have actually approved the cap and trade system.
Rhode Island and Connecticut committed to the program but require legislative approval and there has yet to be a vote in either state.
There is also an effort underway in Massachusetts to put TCI on the ballot for the November 2022 election which, if successful, could force a rollback of TCI in that state.