Ballot proposal targets participation in transpo emissions pact

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Three state lawmakers and Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl helped kick off an effort on Wednesday to undermine a regional carbon emission reduction program pushed by Gov. Charlie Baker, filing a proposed ballot question for 2022 that seeks to effectively block the state’s participation in the Transportation Climate Initiative.

The potential ballot initiative is the latest in a series of attempts by opponents to disrupt the momentum behind the regional cap-and-trade program that started in 2018 as a coalition of 12 states and the District of Columbia but has seen the number of commitments from states along the East Coast shrink.

Rep. David DeCoste, a Norwell Republican, filed the paperwork with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, submitting the language and the initial 10 signatures required to start the long process of qualifying for next year’s ballot.

Massachusetts is one of three states, along with the District of Columbia, invested in launching the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) by 2023.

The program has been billed as a way to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2032 by capping pollution from motor gasoline and on-road diesel, and investing the proceeds from the sale of carbon allowances into clean energy alternatives, such as electric cars and buses.

The program will also drive up the cost of gas, and last week the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Foundation and the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association raised the specter of fuel shortages as soon as 2025 unless the state can replace 80,000 gas-powered vehicles with electric cars and trucks in the next four years.

The initiative petition filed on Wednesday stipulates that “the supply of gasoline, diesel fuel, special fuels or similar motor fuels available to meet consumer demand shall not be reduced or restricted by the imposition of any tax, fee, other revenue-generating mechanism, or market-based compliance mechanism.”

While TCI does not propose to limit fuel supply, it would put a declining cap on emissions from on-road diesel and motor gasoline. Opponents say this translates to a reduction in the number of gallons of fuel that can be sold to consumer.

Diehl’s name was the first signature on the initiative petition. The former Whitman lawmaker led a successful ballot campaign in 2014 to repeal a law indexing the gas tax to inflation, and now he is running for the Republican nomination for governor in 2022.

The petition was also signed by DeCoste, Rep. Nick Boldyga, a Southwick Republican, Rep. Colleen Garry, a Dracut Democrat, and Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

“TCI will force working families and middle-class Massachusetts to subsidize electric vehicles for the affluent. The people that will feel the pinch deserve a voice in this process. Consumers should be free to make their own decisions and TCI should never restrict the amount of gasoline Massachusetts motorists can purchase. It’s bad economics and cruel,” Craney said.
 
The governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island are in the process of working with lawmakers in their states to secure approval to move forward with TCI, while eight other states have not formally signed onto TCI but remain involved in the planning, according to the Georgetown Climate Center.

Baker did not need to seek the approval of the Legislature to sign the memorandum of understanding to join TCI because the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act authorized the executive branch to enter into market-based agreements to reduce emissions from varying sectors.

Craney said that under the language of the proposed ballot question Baker could still join TCI, but that the framework of the program would have to be significantly altered to allow much broader availability of carbon allowances.

The language of the question also raises questions about what impact it might have on the ability of the Legislature to increase the state’s 24-cent gas tax. Craney said that small increases in the gas tax have been shown by research to have almost no effect on consumer behavior, though he believes an increase large enough to push drivers off the road could fall under this proposal.

Neither DeCoste, who is listed as the principal proponent of the ballot question, nor Diehl could be reached to discuss the proposal on Wednesday, and the Baker administration did not reply to a request for comment.

Officials from the Georgetown Climate Center recently rejected the claims of opponents that TCI would lead to fuel shortages, accusing them of deliberately misinterpreting federal energy data to make incorrect assumptions about demand that did not take into account how investments in clean energy alternatives will reduce emissions.

The TCI program, the program developers said, also allows for fuel suppliers to use biofuel blending to reduce the fossil portion of fuels being sold into participating markets and meet emission reduction targets.

“Nothing in this bears any resemblance to TCI, which is designed to reduce air pollution and invest in better, more equitable transportation choices,” said Peter Rafle, a spokesman for the Georgetown Climate Center.

If the question is certified by Healey’s office, proponents would need to collect more than 80,000 signatures by Nov. 17 to proceed to the next step of the ballot qualification process.

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