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NPR Science & Technology

East Coast States Draft a Plan to Tackle Transportation Emissions

Eve Zuckoff
Cars drive across the Sagamore bridge.

Nearly a dozen states, including Massachusetts, are collaborating on the Transportation & Climate Initiative, a regional program that would curb greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

On Tuesday they released the first draft of their “cap and invest” plan, which would impose a fee on fuel distributors. Those distributors would have to pay a fee for each ton of carbon emitted when the fuels they sell are burned.

Over time, the TCI would raise the price of emissions and lower the amount that distributors are allowed the emit—hence, a cap.  

The program would likely raise the price of gas by at least 5-to-17 cents per gallon by 2022.

Already, the plan is proving to be controversial. Just a few hours after the details were released, Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire pulled his state out, saying that the plan will unfairly push the cost burden onto rural communities.

“I will not force Granite Staters to pay more for their gas just to subsidize other state's crumbling infrastructure,” the Governor tweeted on Tuesday.

Conservative lawmakers and other consumer groups in Massachusetts have expressed their own concerns that these costs would fall on local drivers.  

“For a lot of people, especially in central and western Massachusetts, they rely on using gasoline: to get to work, to go to the supermarket, to pick up their kids. So they’re not going to be able to change their behavior, but they’re going to have to spend more money,” said Paul Craney, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative advocacy group.

“The easiest way to describe T-C-I is it stands for T-A-X,” he added.  

But Jonah Kurman-Faber of the nonpartisan research organization Climate Xchange, says the program could generate up to $500 million dollars in state revenue, which could go toward building more efficient public transportation or even electric vehicle charging stations.  

“Our job is to make better options available to everyone in the state and the TCI program helps us do that,” he said.

Also, he noted overreliance on gas-powered cars means taxpayers are already bearing significant costs.  

“That can be [anything] from increased taxpayer costs for health care, for premature death from pollution, or asthma attack, or traffic injuries. It could be increased cost of productivity from being stuck in traffic.”

Proponents say carbon emissions are the single greatest drivers of climate change, and in Massachusetts 40% of carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. This program, they say, could help the region create economic and financial incentives that would encourage an electrified and de-carbonized transportation system. That, in turn, would help keep the planet from reaching climate tipping points.  

States and the public will have two months to comment on the plan before a final agreement is expected this spring.