Vermont, Connecticut Governors Not So High on Charlie Baker’s Regional Carbon-Emissions Fee on Gasoline

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The Republican governor of Vermont and the Democratic governor of Connecticut poured cold water this week on a regional carbon-emissions fee that could increase gasoline prices by 5 to 17 cents a gallon – isolating Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who supports the idea.

The regional proposal, called the Transportation Climate Initiative, is supposed to consist of states from Maine to Virginia imposing a fee on fuel providers. The revenue from the fee is supposed to pay for improvements to public transportation to try to get people out of their carbon-emitting cars, which some say are contributing significantly to global warming, which they say is bad.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott never mentioned the term “Transportation Climate Initiative” during his State of the State speech on Thursday, January 9, but he seemed to refer to it in passing – negatively.

After touting various climate change programs he supports, Scott expressed opposition to raising prices.

“As we look even further ahead, I strongly believe it’s incentives, not penalties, which will help us transition more quickly,” Scott said, according to a recording and transcript published by Vermont Public Radio. “I hear from Vermonters across the state, like those traveling long distances for work out of necessity, not choice, and others, like our seniors living on fixed incomes, who struggle to fill their gas tanks and heat their homes. I simply cannot support proposals that will make things more expensive for them.”

Earlier this week, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont also sounded skeptical about the idea. Connecticut already has the seventh highest state gas tax in the nation and the highest in New England.

Lamont also didn’t use the words “Transportation Climate Initiative,” but when an interviewer asked him about it, he expressed skepticism.

“I gotta tell you, raising the gas tax, which frankly is what many Republican states have done to pay for transportation, I think is 100 percent paid for by Connecticut residents and probably not the way to go,” Lamont said during a WNPR radio show Tuesday, January 7. (His comments come at 28:33 of the recording.)

Supporters say the carbon-emissions charge is a fee, not a tax, but they acknowledge that it would lead to higher gasoline prices for motorists and that the extra money would go to the government.

Maine Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, has been noncommittal on the proposal – a spokesman said in December the state will be “appropriately cautious.” The carbon-emissions fee proposal has drawn opposition in Maine.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, is the only governor in New England besides Baker on record as supporting the carbon-emissions fee on fuel.

The pact started with 12 states and the District of Columbia. Baker’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Kathleen Theoharides, said in December that the pact would not need all 13 jurisdictions to go forward but would need what she called a “critical mass” in order to succeed.

Baker administration officials have suggested that the governor can impose a fee on fuel providers in connection with the Transportation Climate Initiative without further approval by the state Legislature, under authority granted the governor by a law enacted in 2007. Some state legislators have been pressing the governor not to impose the fee without getting legislative approval.