Government

Legislation Would Start Rhode Island Down Road to Reduced Transportation Emissions

PROVIDENCE — A pair of state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would kick-start Rhode Island’s participation in a regional agreement to reduce transportation emissions.

Rep. Terri Cortvriend, D-Portsmouth, and Sen. Alana DiMario, D-Narragansett, recently introduced matching legislation to enact the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) in Rhode Island.

TCI is a regional cap-and-invest program designed to reduce vehicle emissions 26 percent by 2032. Former Gov. Gina Raimondo, President Joe Biden’s new commerce secretary, signed a memorandum of understanding in December to join the initiative with Connecticut, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Titled the Transportation Emissions and Mobile (TEAM) Community Act in both houses, DiMario introduced bill S0872 on May 5 and Cortvriend introduced bill H6310 on May 7.

The TEAM Community Act would provide funding for cleaner transportation “while drastically reducing pollution that harms public health, particularly in urban, poorer neighborhoods that disproportionately bear the burden of transportation infrastructure like major highways,” the legislators wrote in a joint statement.

The transportation sector accounts for about 36 percent of Rhode Island’s greenhouse-gas emissions. The regional TCI program would generate more than $3 billion over 10 years for the participating governments to invest in green transportation options, they said.

Wholesale fuel suppliers in each participating jurisdiction would buy “allowances” for pollution resulting from their industries beginning in 2023, with the number of allowances available at quarterly auctions gradually reduced over time.

The governments could use the tens of millions in expected annual proceeds from the auctions to make infrastructure investments aimed at reducing air pollution, including electrifying buses, installing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and adding community bicycle lanes.

The TEAM Community Act would establish a statutory framework for Rhode Island by establishing regulatory authorities, legal compliance obligations and the carbon allowances for auction. The act would also allow the state’s participation in compliance tracking systems with the other governments.

An Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Board would oversee the program’s requirements of a minimum 35 percent investment of proceeds in cleaner transportation projects for underserved and environmentally overburdened communities, according to the lawmakers.

They said Rhode Island needs programs like TCI to achieve the wider environmental goals set forth in the Act On Climate signed last month by Gov. Daniel McKee.

“There’s broad consensus that we have to drastically reduce our carbon emissions,” DiMario said. “The TEAM Community Act is the plan we need to get moving on that work.”

Cortvriend stressed the connection between transportation emissions and health issues, especially asthma and other conditions resulting from air pollution.

“Above all, this is a public health initiative,” Cortvriend said. “We cannot continue dumping massive amounts of pollution into the air — pollution that we know is contributing to serious and costly health problems including cancer, heart disease and asthma, particularly among the urban poor and all Rhode Islanders who live near high-congestion and high-traffic areas, which are the worst pollution sources.”

Lawmakers in Rhode Island and Connecticut must pass authorizing legislation before the states can participate in TCI. Fuel suppliers, gas station operators, and conservative lawmakers and groups have criticized the program as a new gas tax.

The TEAM Community Act bills have support from community and environmental groups, including the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, Clean Water Action, Climate Action Rhode Island, the Environment Council of Rhode Island and the Coalition for a Better Business Environment.

The legislation is a “critical first step” for the state’s transportation network, according to Hank Webster, Rhode Island director of Acadia Center, a regional advocacy organization for renewable energy.

“Automakers have announced a major shift towards electric vehicles; people are walking and bicycling at record levels; and, public transportation helps reduce traffic congestion and commuting costs for workers,” Webster wrote in a statement. “Making strategic investments in clean mobility options will strengthen our economy, create good jobs, and deliver over $100 million in annual health benefits from cleaner air and healthier communities.”

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