By Barbara Moran
A poll released Wednesday finds that 72% of voters in Massachusetts are in favor of the state joining the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.
"It's really rare to see such a social consensus for an initiative like the TCI," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, the group that conducted the survey along with polling group Climate Nexus. "We're finding huge majorities of voters support strong action to address all of these intersecting challenges."
The poll surveyed 3,800 voters in Massachusetts broadly about public investments in transportation and water infrastructure, broadband expansion and TCI. The pact could include 11 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, plus Washington, D.C. The poll found 70% of voters regionally support the pact.
But it's unclear if the poll accurately reflects voters' views on TCI and its potential financial consequences, since poll questions didn’t mention that the initiative will likely increase gas prices. A recent analysis from the Tufts Center for State Policy Analysis noted that gas prices could increase up to 38 cents per gallon by 2022, depending on emission reduction targets.
“When you do give people a sense of how much things will cost, support does drop a little bit, particularly among Republicans," Leiserowitz said. "But overall, we generally see that when people understand what the benefits are that they're going to get for these programs, there's very strong support."
Leiserowitz said pollsters didn’t include gas price information in the questions because the range of possible increases was so wide.
“We just didn't have that data," he said. "But generally, we see that public support remains pretty high even when you do provide those kinds of details.”
TCI has come under fire from some governors concerned about higher prices at the pump. Gov. Charlie Baker endorsed TCI in late 2019.
Chris Dempsey, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said the poll results suggest that voters in Massachusetts support the idea of a collaborative, regional effort to combat climate change and improve transportation infrastructure.
“TCI is good policy and this poll shows it’s also good politics,” he said in a statement.
If the collaboration between Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states moves forward, gas and diesel fuel distributors would pay a fee for each ton of carbon emitted when the fuels they sell are burned. That fee would go up over time, while the cap on permissible emissions would go down.
The revenue from TCI will go to the participating states to support cleaner transportation infrastructure. That could mean anything from improved mass transit, to electric charging stations, to better sidewalks and bike lanes. The Baker administration has estimated that TCI could generate up to $500 million a year in new revenue for Massachusetts.
In addition, a preliminary analysis of the health impacts of TCI, released earlier this year, found that the plan would likely reduce air pollution and offer significant health benefits.
But environmental justice advocates have raised concerns that TCI will not do enough to eliminate racial disparities in exposure to air pollution, and that they have not been given enough say in how dividends will be spent. They asked that all of the proceeds be dedicated to programs directed at underserved communities.
According to the Yale poll, that idea has some support: Two thirds of voters regionally, including 65% of Massachusetts voters, say that communities of color should be prioritized in transportation investments under TCI.
“We're seeing very strong support for action to address climate change and air pollution across the region, especially as it has disproportionate consequences for communities of color," Leiserowitz said.
A spokesperson for the Baker administration said the states are expected to sign a final memorandum of understanding on TCI by the end of this year.