Action steps for the electricity, transportation, and buildings sectors will help meet state’s climate goals, improve public health, and increase equity.
New Haven, Conn. – Save the Sound has released a major report on Connecticut’s climate, economy, and community well-being. “Climate Action Plan 2022: Cut Emissions & Build a Healthy Connecticut” examines the electricity, transportation, and buildings sectors in Connecticut—as well as cross-sector considerations and social factors—to identify a short list of critical policies that our legislature should pass to ensure the state meets its greenhouse gas reduction targets in an equitable way.
“With every new international report and every observable change in our own backyards, the urgency of climate action gets clearer,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, vice president for programs at Save the Sound. “Connecticut has made bold climate commitments, but has lagged behind neighboring states on implementing the policies that will make those targets a reality. The latest emissions data show Connecticut is not on track to meet its climate mandates. Worse, in some sectors the state’s emissions are higher than they were 30 years ago. It doesn’t have to be that way: the policies we need are clear, known, and achievable. This plan charts a path to a climate-responsible economy that will improve individual and community health, starting right away.”
The Action Plan was made possible by a collaboration between Save the Sound and The Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, with participation by other allies and advisors, including consulting firm Synapse Energy Economics. Over the course of two years, Yale graduate students and Save the Sound staff identified best practices across multiple sectors, tracked Connecticut’s progress on them, drew on reports and recommendations by the Governor’s Council on Climate Change, and identified concrete actions that policymakers can take now to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and maximize social good.
“Climate change is a ‘risk amplifier,’ meaning that many existing risks to health—environmental, economic, demographic, social, or genetic—are intensified by climate change,” explained Dr. Laura Bozzi, director of programs for the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health. “Our mission is to safeguard human health from the adverse impacts of climate change and the human activities that cause it. In this case, we’re doing that by identifying state policy opportunities. Through a course we teach, eight students under faculty supervision examined best practices from states leading on climate action, and developed rubrics that identify what Connecticut has already done, and what action opportunities still exist.”
Save the Sound and partners identified best practices, short-term actions, and longer-term actions in the three major greenhouse gas-producing sectors of our economy—electricity, transportation, and buildings—as well as cross-sector actions. Throughout, the plan notes actions that will increase equity and improve public health. An economic analysis by Synapse shows the job growth potential of several recommended climate policies over the next four years.
Renewable energy can shape the rest of the economy by providing a less-polluting resource for homes, industry, and electric vehicles to draw on. The Action Plan identifies high-impact electricity sector opportunities including raising (or removing) caps on shared solar production, procuring the full amount of offshore wind power allowed by law, reforming the regional wholesale energy market, and codifying the 100% clean energy by 2040 goal to establish accountability. Mike Trahan, executive director of Connecticut Solar & Storage Association, said, “Climate change isn’t someone else’s problem. We own our share of it. So it’s up to us, not the federal government alone, to act. There’s plenty we can do at the state level—starting with state lawmakers accepting the climate proposals that Save the Sound and others put on the table last year and this year.”
Connecticut has tremendous potential for reducing emissions from the transportation sector: enactment of the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program alone would reduce transportation emissions by at least 26% and prevent thousands of Connecticut residents a year from having asthma-related problems. Additional actions state lawmakers can take now include adopting California’s emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, fully integrating equity and public health into transportation planning, and requiring the Department of Transportation to analyze and mitigate climate impacts from transportation projects. Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy attorney at Save the Sound, said, “As the largest source of Connecticut’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is especially critical to transform the transportation sector through a rapid transition to electric vehicles powered by clean, renewable electricity. The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a policy that is still very much needed, would catalyze that transition and eventually free Connecticut residents from the wild price volatility of the oil industry—all while providing substantial improvements to our air quality and public health. While we continue to work towards comprehensive policy solutions, we hope the legislature will take the opportunities currently before them to act on the clean transportation bills now pending in the General Assembly.”
The buildings sector—comprising residential, commercial, and government buildings—has some of the greatest direct impact on Connecticut residents’ well-being. Actions recommended in the Plan include incentivizing renewable thermal technologies, eliminating subsidies for natural gas, updating building codes to align with the most recent International Energy Conservation Code standards, and establishing green building standards for public housing. Melissa Kops, AIA, board advisor for CT Green Building Council, said, “Investments we make in buildings now will outlive our climate target deadlines, so, as recommended in this action plan, we must build in energy efficiency from the start, take substantial steps now to transition away from fossil fuels, and train the workforce to get us there!” Save the Sound has joined a broad coalition of advocates in supporting CT Green Building Council’s suite of long- and short-term actions for the building sector at buildbetterct.org.
Other action opportunities resist slotting into one sector. To turn around the state’s slow decline from climate leader to climate laggard, Connecticut must improve accountability and enforceability of the state’s existing climate policies by authorizing Connecticut residents to bring citizens suits for failure to meet statutory targets, empowering the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection with the regulatory authority it needs to address the climate crisis, and requiring climate impact analysis of state projects and legislation.
Climate education and resilience preparation campaigns should be developed to better reach low-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) audiences that are most at risk, and community benefits programs should prioritize investment in these communities. Karen Siegel, MPH, director of policy at Health Equity Solutions, said, “Health equity includes breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and living in housing that is safe and healthy. To achieve these goals, Connecticut must listen to the Black, Latino/a, and other People of Color in our state who are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution and the chronic health issues it causes. Stronger community benefit laws are one key piece of these broader efforts to shift power to the people most impacted by inequities in health. The Action Plan’s emphasis on meaningful community engagement and workforce inclusivity promotes bold steps towards environmental justice.”
Most of all, the Action Plan spotlights that there are things that can be done right now, with immediate action agendas for state legislators and residents.
For state legislators, the emphasis is on accountability as the foundation of motivating future climate action, with recommendations to:
- Update greenhouse gas targets to comport with the latest science;
- Create accountability by requiring state agencies to evaluate and mitigate the potential climate impacts of their actions;
- Establish enforceability by providing Connecticut residents the right to hold the state to its legal obligations under the Global Warming Solutions Act; and
- Grant DEEP the authority it needs to establish programs and regulations that will meet the state’s climate goals.
Bold climate action requires political will, and it won’t happen without demand from the public. The Action Plan identifies four key ways Connecticut residents can help advance policy action:
- Fortify yourself with facts about climate science and government processes;
- Advocate for concrete action at every level of government by writing letters, testifying, voting, and getting involved in local development proposals;
- Mobilize others to learn more and speak up; and
- Reward leadership by thanking lawmakers who take the bold climate action Connecticut needs.
“The closer we get to the Global Warming Solutions Act’s deadlines, the steeper the hill is to climb: our limited action is compounded, requiring ever more significant cuts to emissions each year,” said Schmalz. “Neighboring states have updated their climate laws by adopting more stringent targets, establishing greater accountability, and providing mechanisms to enforce the law. It is time for Connecticut to follow suit. We know what needs to be done. The next step is action—by our legislators and by residents of Connecticut.”