In December, a bipartisan group from 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that make up the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) released a draft Memorandum of Understanding outlining a program to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. Vermont’s delegation in the design process was led by Gov. Phil Scott’s appointees from the Agency of Natural Resources, the Agency of Transportation and the Department of Public Service.
Here are 12 questions and answers that explain what TCI is and what it expects to do.
Q: What is TCI?
TCI is a multi-state agreement to modernize transportation infrastructure and reduce the air pollution responsible for serious health issues while simultaneously reducing the region’s contribution to global warming.
Q: Why do the TCI backers want to reduce air pollution and transportation costs?
There is no safe level of air pollution. Vehicle exhaust is toxic and linked to a host of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and stroke. Reducing air pollution will reduce medical expenses and save lives.
Gasoline and diesel costs are the largest component of most Vermonters’ total energy burden – the percentage of household income spent on transportation, home heating and household electricity. Programs and technologies that reduce transportation costs ultimately save Vermonters money.
Q: How will TCI drive down pollution?
Pollution will be reduced by limiting the flow of fossil fuels into the region and by modernizing Vermont’s transportation options and infrastructure, investing in additional public transit for rural communities, supporting affordable housing closer to Vermont’s job centers, and providing incentives for electric vehicles.
Q: How does TCI work?
TCI is a three-step process. First, the governors will set a cap, or limit, on carbon dioxide emissions from burning motor fuel. Second, fossil fuel companies will be required to purchase allowances to the pollution their products cause. Third, those proceeds will then be invested in cleaner transportation options that will reduce pollution and Vermonters’ energy burdens.
Q: Won’t fossil fuel companies pass on the costs of their allowances to drivers?
For decades, fossil fuel companies have socialized the harm their products cause while privatizing the profits. Most of the environmental, health and infrastructure costs caused by climate change are paid for by taxpayers. At the same time, the world’s largest oil companies earned at least $84 billion in profits in 2018. Fuel suppliers can certainly afford to absorb TCI pollution costs by shaving a bit off their profits.
If fossil fuel companies do pass on the costs of their pollution allowances, then they will be the ones responsible for raising transportation prices on Vermonters at the pump, not anyone else.
Q: What does Vermont get for participating in TCI?
Early estimates are Vermont could receive tens of millions of dollars each year to invest in cleaner, more resilient transportation infrastructure. This could mitigate the impacts of catastrophic climate events, like Tropical Storm Irene.
Q: Who opposes this plan?
Fossil fuel companies and their corporate lobbyists are the primary opponents to TCI. The majority of Vermonters want to see meaningful action on climate, and TCI delivers that.
Q: Who will this program benefit the most?
The financial benefits of cleaner transportation options – like electric vehicles and public transportation – accrue fastest to people who travel the furthest distances. Low-income Vermonters would benefit from TCI’s investments. And the entire state would benefit economically from the new jobs created installing EV charging stations, building bike paths and park & rides, driving electric buses, and innovating new products and services to reduce pollution.
Q: How much will the TCI scenario reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transportation?
The program designers have not settled on a final figure, but they have modeled reducing emissions between 20-25% by 2032. What they have found is the more carbon pollution is reduced, the better it will be for the region’s economy and health.
Q: Will the reduction of carbon pollution help?
Yes. Every particle of carbon pollution the TCI participating states can prevent from entering our environment helps limit the negative impacts of fossil fuel emissions.
Q: Wait. Reducing pollution will help Vermonters and the Vermont economy?
Yes! When we factor the economic, environmental and social benefits of TCI – it is well worth the investment. For example:
As Governor Scott has said, “Transitioning to electric vehicles can save millions of dollars. In 2015, approximately $830 million was spent on gasoline sales in Vermont. If this travel had all been powered by electricity, the cost would’ve been significantly less, saving drivers more than $500 million.”
The Vermont Department of Health estimates that, if we meet the transportation goals in Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, we can expect $1.1 billion worth of benefits in terms of reduced health care costs and increased productivity by 2050.
And in a state facing a demographic crisis, TCI can play an important role. The Department of Health estimates that meeting our climate goals will save 2,000 lives over the next 30 years due to more physical activity, cleaner air and safer roads.
Q: Gov. Phil Scott has helped design of the Transportation & Climate Initiative. Will he sign on?
As of now, he won’t say. If you want a cleaner, healthier, more affordable Vermont, please join us in contacting the governor today and urge him to sign onto TCI by calling his office at 828-3333.
This commentary is by Jenn Swain, the Global Senior Sustainability Manager at Burton, and Jen Kimmich, co-founder and CEO of the Alchemist Brewery