Facing backlash, Lamont defends decision to drop climate effort from 2022 agenda

Photo of John Moritz
Gov. Ned Lamont

Gov. Ned Lamont

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

WINDSOR — Gov. Ned Lamont sought to reaffirm his environmental bona fides on Wednesday by championing his administration’s efforts to train workers for clean energy careers, while deflecting criticism from environmentalists angered by his decision to abandon efforts to join a regional climate change initiative in 2022.

Speaking at a workforce training center in Windsor that specializes in placing graduates in jobs installing insulation, sealing gaps in windows and doors and making homes more energy efficient, Lamont said the state would look to leverage a massive investment on federal dollars from the recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill toward such green initiatives.

Those investments, however, are unlikely to be matched with new funds from a multistate cap-and-trade program on vehicle emissions, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which Lamont effectively declared dead earlier this week.

“Look, we’re getting a lot of money for resiliency, we’re getting a lot of environmental money, we have to put up our share of it,” Lamont said Wednesday. “TCI was one way that the state could put up its share, my hunch is it won't be this year.”

The governor’s backing away from the TCI prompted a flurry of criticism from environmental advocates, who accused the governor of bowing to critics of the program — and their incessant depiction of the TCI as a gas tax increase — ahead of an election year.

Save the Sound swiftly reacted to Lamont’s announcement Tuesday that he would not continue to push for the TCI. In a statement, the group cast the move as “politically convenient,” and a “abandonment of his top climate priority.”

The Acadia Center, another conservation group, was similarly blunt in its criticism, releasing a statement titled “Governor Lamont Strikes Out On Climate.”

Both groups pointed to a report released earlier this year by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which found that the state is not on track to meet its own goals for reducing carbon emissions. Vehicle emissions “remained stubbornly high,” the report concluded, despite falling emissions from power plants and industrial sources.

“There’s no choice, somebody’s got to do something and it’s got to happen soon and it’s got to be big,” said Lori Brown, director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and one of the chief lobbyists for the TCI.

“And if you are looking at going into an election year and you’re afraid that doing anything that might get you some bad media or bad coverage or anger from constituents, think about all the constituents that are going to be furious at a do-nothing leadership or do-nothing Legislature or administration on climate,” Brown said.

DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes, the administration’s strong advocate for joining the TCI, acknowledged Wednesday that the state was behind on meeting its emission targets, though she vowed to utilize funding from the federal infrastructure bill to make investments in meeting those goals and funding other projects that would have benefited from the TCI.

“We just had tornadoes touch down in Connecticut in November,” Dykes told reporters. “The climate crisis is here, it’s continuing.”

Responding to criticism about dropping the TCI from his 2022 agenda, Lamont said it is “not a bad idea” for those critics to focus their attention on lawmakers, who failed to pass TCI legislation — or even bring it to a vote — earlier this year.

That lack of a vote happened despite overwhelming Democratic majorities and active support from Lamont, who appeared with Dykes around the state calling for Connecticut to join the initiative. The governor reiterated on Wednesday that he would “absolutely” sign such a bill if it reached his desk.

“Nobody can say we didn’t put our shoulder to the wheel,” Lamont said. “I know what it would mean in terms of the environment, I know what it would mean in terms of good-paying jobs, I know what it meant in terms of working with Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but the Legislature just didn’t have an appetite for it.”

Brown, with the League of Conservation Voters, said Wednesday that there was sufficient support among Democrats in the Legislature to pass a TCI plan, which she said had been hampered by “behind-the-scenes” opposition.

“They still need to come back to the table to figure this out,” she said.

Republicans have held numerous rallies against the TCI, charging that it could raise the price of gas even further and promising to make it a campaign issue as Lamont seeks re-election. The administration and other proponents of the plan said any price increases were not likely to exceed 5 cents per gallon and they noted that the money would be used to address needs in Connecticut.

Transportation Committee Co-Chair Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said Wednesday that while disappointed in the deferral of TCI to future years, the decision reflected the “political reality,” for Lamont and Democrats, who are seeking to maintain their control in Hartford amid surging costs of gas and other products.

“We can still use the resources that we do have to make progress in reducing carbon emissions, promoting public transit and advancing equity,” Haskell added. “This is a really urgent moment for Connecticut to get this right.”

Turning the attention Wednesday to his administration’s existing conservation efforts, Lamont met with graduates of the job-training program run by the Windsor nonprofit Energy Efficiency for All. The group, in partnership with the state Office of Workforce Strategy, has completed training of 15 workers and connected them with jobs at energy-efficiency contractors.

As part of a larger state investment in workforce training, Lamont said the state would specifically target investments toward green jobs.

Niall Dammando, the chief of staff for the Office of Workforce Strategy, said that investment would include $10 million over the next three years to train up to 1,500 workers for careers improving the energy efficiency of homes and other buildings.