By Elsa Nuñez
As the president of a public university, I have great admiration for the courage and tenacity of young people. The global movement against climate change is a clear example, in which millions of youth — and thousands across Connecticut -- are demanding that my generation take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. Young people know this crisis is solvable, and they are confident that by working together they can influence the actions of government and corporate decision-makers.
As our students invest in their post-academic futures, Eastern Connecticut State University is committed to investing in the world they’ll enter. That’s why in 2020 we released our Climate Action Plan, a comprehensive 10-year guide to achieve campus carbon neutrality. Our approach to sustainability is reflected in our efforts to increase campus energy efficiency, lead cutting-edge sustainability research and prepare students for the growing clean energy workforce.
Eastern is just as committed to sustainability beyond our campus as we are within it. We support Gov. Ned Lamont’s leadership in signing Connecticut onto the regional Transportation & Climate Initiative Program, or TCI-P. Now we urge the General Assembly to adopt legislation to solidify the state’s participation in the program.
TCI-P has two major objectives: make fossil fuel suppliers purchase allowances for the emissions they cause in our state; and invest the proceeds from those sales in clean transportation options, such as expanded public transit, electric vehicle infrastructure and pedestrian improvements. Both aspects of the program will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to a warming planet.
Eastern supports TCI-P for practical reasons. As we reopen our campus to 10,000 students, faculty and staff this fall, one of our biggest obstacles to carbon neutrality will be tackling the emissions caused by our campus commuters, many of whom will arrive by car.
TCI-P will generate up to $117 million a year for Willimantic, the location of our main campus, and towns across the state to invest in low-carbon transportation options for students and residents. The program will even help the state invest in rural broadband access to allow our students to participate in coursework and campus life remotely — a necessity driven home by the pandemic.
These investments will support the environmental, health and economic futures of not only our students but our local community, as well. In Connecticut, fossil-fuel-powered cars and trucks generate 38 percent of our carbon emissions. As a result of these emissions, our air quality is diminished, our asthma rate is above the national average and our number of pollution-related deaths is the highest in New England.
While all Connecticut residents are affected by air pollution, it is our Black and brown residents, the targets of longstanding, discriminatory transportation and environmental policies, who are disproportionately affected. Our fight toward carbon neutrality is also a fight toward racial equity.
Importantly, state leaders have committed to investing nearly $400 million in TCI-P proceeds within underserved Connecticut communities by 2032. This will help to save hundreds of lives and avoid an estimated $7.6 billion in health care costs each year across the Northeast.
Eastern is one of many local employers who support TCI-P. Last fall, we joined over 100 businesses and institutions across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions to urge our governors to launch TCI-P and incorporate equity, public health and emission reductions as priorities for investments.
Our college and local communities will benefit greatly from TCI-P. We ask the General Assembly to join our neighboring states in this regional program to cut pollution and invest in clean transportation solutions. This is a major opportunity to serve our state while meeting the example set by our young people.
Elsa Nuñez is president of Eastern Connecticut State University.