By Samathan Dynowski
Climate change is on everyone’s mind. How could it not be? We see one news story after another about climate catastrophe around the world. We can literally feel the impact of the climate crisis as summers get hotter and winters get warmer, like on Jan. 11 when record high temperatures of 68 degrees hit Hartford and brought people out into the streets in their shorts and flip-flops.
At the same time, we’re spending way too much of our time in congested and unsafe traffic. Mass transit options are limited and often inaccessible, especially on evenings and weekends. Alternatives to driving, including safe bike lanes and pedestrian routes, are mostly nonexistent.
Rather than having safe, cross-city bicycle routes for all ages, we have disconnected bike lane orphans and short segments that end abruptly.
These dismal realities of our transportation system, climate change and threats to our safety and well-being are inherently interconnected. In addition to worsening our daily commutes and polluting the air we breathe, our cars and trucks are the largest source of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases in Connecticut. Given the dirty and ineffective status quo, it is not surprising that Connecticut residents across rural, suburban and urban communities have demonstrated widespread support for a multistate program in the works that could give our transportation systems a massive makeover. Known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI for short, the program would reduce transportation pollution and invest in clean, modern transportation options.
Multiple polls in Connecticut and across the region have shown broad, bipartisan support for a cleaner, safer, healthier, more equitable and modern transportation system to reduce pollution, create thousands of new jobs and save consumers billions of dollars in health care costs.
Right now, the federal administration is going in the opposite direction by pursuing an unpopular and dangerous rollback of clean car standards. By working with other states in the region to cut emissions from motor fuels, Connecticut can succeed in moving forward on climate progress while delivering the clean transportation that people in our state want and need, especially communities that have suffered the most from transportation pollution and are underserved with accessible and affordable options. Beyond Connecticut, this regional program will result in a nationally significant reduction in greenhouse gases, while increasing the resilience of the region’s transportation systems with much-needed infrastructure investments.
These policies will do more than deliver on climate action. The states’ draft plan projects big benefits for public health and the economy; a 25 percent reduction in motor fuel emissions could prevent more than 1,000 premature deaths and 1,300 asthma attacks per year across the region. It would generate up to $7 billion annually that could be invested into expanding transportation choices for rural, urban and suburban communities. Imagine the benefits under a stronger emissions reduction target, such as 45 percent.
This approach to transportation has widespread support in Connecticut and throughout the region, except from polluters. Dirty energy companies and their mouthpieces are keen to spread negative messages so that they can keep profiting by polluting our communities and destroying our climate. It is time that Connecticut residents, not dirty fossil fuel companies, have the final word for a future that benefits them. Gov. Lamont and fellow governors working on the Transportation and Climate Initiative should finalize a strong and just regional policy this spring. We can’t afford to let this opportunity to address our most polluting sector pass us by.
Samantha Dynowski is state director for Sierra Club Connecticut.