BOSTON -- Massachusetts is largely in the driver’s seat on a regional plan to reduce carbon emissions from cars and trucks, but the initiative, which could lead to higher gas prices, now hinges on the approval of lawmakers in two neighboring states.
Gov. Charlie Baker, the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the mayor of Washington, D.C., signed a regional agreement in December that aims to substantially curb tailpipe emissions while drumming up revenue for projects to mitigate climate change and improve transportation infrastructure.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative won't be put to a vote in Massachusetts, but it still must be ratified by Connecticut and Rhode Island in order to go forward.
In Connecticut, lawmakers are debating whether to enter into the pact. A bill filed by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to clear a key committee but its fate in the General Assembly is less certain.
Rhode Island lawmakers have yet to file a proposal to ratify the deal, but supporters say they expect legislation to emerge soon.
Backers of the initiative in Connecticut and Rhode Island say they expect it to be ratified, but opponents argue that it’s anything but a done deal.
"If lawmakers go ahead with this, they are going to be increasing gas prices for their constituents, which will be a hard sell," said Christian Herb, executive director of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, a trade group that opposes the pact. "The governor is clearly in favor of it, but the Legislature will ultimately have the final say."
Herb said a Republican minority in the Connecticut Legislature, and even some Democrats, strongly oppose approving a pact that would lead to higher gas prices and "cede their taxing authority to some autonomous bureaucracy."
“If it had steam, I think they would've already voted on it by now," he said. "I expect it will come out of committee, but it's going to be a different story in the General Assembly."
The pact aims to cut motor vehicle emissions by at least 26% within the next 11 years. It targets gasoline and diesel fuel consumption, which account for about 40% of regional emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change.
The three states now involved in the pact account for about 73% of vehicle emissions in New England.
Under the plan, suppliers who deliver fuel across state lines will be taxed on emissions above limits that have yet to be set.
Their costs will likely be passed to consumers.
Supporters say the plan caps increases at 5 cents per gallon in the first year, but opponents say it's unclear what will happen down the road. They say the deal ultimately will hurt consumers while doing little to reduce emissions.
"In order to reach the emissions cuts they're proposing, it's going to have to be 30, 40, 50 cents a gallon," said Mike Stenhouse, founder and CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. "Make no mistake, this isn't about reducing carbon emissions. It's basically a cash grab by these states."
Stenhouse said his group has done polling that shows even Rhode Islanders who support cutting vehicle emissions change their mind when told it will cost them at the pump. He said dozens of lawmakers have gone on record in opposition to the pact.
Former Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat who signed the climate pact, has left to serve as President Joe Biden’s commerce secretary. It's not yet clear where her successor, Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, stands on the issue.
But Hank Webster, director of the Rhode Island chapter of the Acadia Center, said he expects the pact to be ratified. He noted the Legislature is in the process of approving a massive climate change bill, and he anticipates something will “emerge soon.”
A majority of the 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that were part of the original TCI pact haven't committed to the agreement. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, says his state won't join.
Of the current group, Massachusetts is the only state that won't be putting the issue to a vote.
The Baker administration says the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act gives the governor the authority to ratify the climate agreement without legislative approval.
A group of Republican lawmakers filed a bill last year that would have required a vote in the Legislature, but it failed to win support.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org