Conservatives, Fossil Fuel Front Groups Attack Regional Effort to Reduce Transportation-Sector Emissions
December 16, 2019
PROVIDENCE — Be prepared for stiff right-wing opposition to the latest effort to curb climate emissions in Rhode Island and across the region.
The multi-state Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is set to unveil a plan to address the largest source of greenhouse gases in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic: the transportation sector. The program’s details will be announced in a draft memorandum of understanding that is scheduled to be released Dec.17. It’s expected that this “cap-and-invest” plan will require distributors of gasoline and on-road diesel fuel, such as fuel terminals, to buy carbon credits to offset their fossil-fuel pollution.
Proceeds from the sale of these allowances will fund incentives and programs for electric vehicles, low-polluting buses and trucks, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. The selection process will give consideration to low-income communities, communities of color, people with limited mobility, and those at risk of health and other consequences of the climate crisis.
The TCI program emulates the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that requires power plants to buy allowances for exceeding climate-emission limits. Former Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, a Republican, joined the accord in 2007. Since 2009, RGGI has accumulated $3.3 billion from auction proceeds. Rhode Island has received nearly $73 million, most of which has funded energy-efficiency efforts such as a streetlight replacement program. About 20 percent of the proceeds has funded renewable-energy projects.
Unsurprisingly, Republican-led groups, conservative media, and organizations with ties to the fossil-fuel industry are getting out ahead of the planned TCI launch, with letter-writing campaigns, opinion pieces, and talk-radio blather attacking efforts to reduce harmful climate emissions.
In an email blast, Mike Stenhouse, CEO of a Rhode Island-based conservative group, called the TCI program a regressive fuel tax and a “green-new-deal type government mandate.”
Similar anti-TCI campaigns are happening in Massachusetts and Maine. A group led by former Maine Gov. Paul LePage is battering the issue. The Massachusetts Republican Party has made unfavorable remarks about the proposal, as has Boston-based talk-show host Howie Carr.
The American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group for the U.S. oil and gas industry, wants the revenue raised through existing road taxes.
“As proposed, the draft TCI framework appears to be a regressive tax on commuters and truckers who rely on their vehicles for their livelihoods,” according to the Consumer Energy Alliance, a fossil-fuel front group.
Rhode Island’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4), a 12-member committee of state agency heads, is well aware of the coordinated opposition.
The day after the Providence Journal published an opinion piece by Stenhouse criticizing TCI, EC4 members emphasized the need to be ready with a convincing message for the public.
The “strategy really needs to be rock-solid because there is going to be opposition to this,” said James Boyd, coastal policy planner for the Coastal Resources Management Council, an EC4 member agency.
Carol Grant, commissioner of the Office of Energy Resources, noted that legislators and the public will need to support any bills that authorize Rhode Island to participate in TCI.
“If we’re going to win hearts and minds, it’s not just people at the Statehouse,” Grant said. “We have to kind of win people over generally to the importance of this.”
Terrence Gray, deputy director for environmental protection at the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and Rhode Island’s TCI representative, urged an emphasis on the facts, such as the public, health, and economic benefits of injecting money into projects that curb climate emissions and other air pollutants.
“There’s going to be an investment program that’s going to be the best use of this money for Rhode Island,” Gray said. “And that’s going to be a key selling point in terms of getting public acceptance and political acceptance for the program.”
EC4 chair and DEM director Janet Coit said the regional approach is best because it gives the scale necessary to make meaningful emissions reductions.
“We need to have a lot of options and this could be the mechanism to move faster on that,” she said.
After the expected announcement on Dec. 17, a final memorandum of understanding (MOU) is planned to be made public this spring. Each state will then decide whether to sign the final MOU and participate in the regional program. Once implemented, the initial phase of the TCI program will run from 2022-2032.