Governors Abandon Pact to Reduce Transportation Pollution

BOSTON (AP) -- Gov. Charlie Baker is abandoning his administration's ambitious plan to create a multi-state compact aimed at dramatically reducing transportation pollution after the deal failed to gain traction in other states.

The announcement comes after Democratic Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who supported the initiative, indicated this week he was backing away from the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Rhode Island was the only other state to have expressed interest in the compact.

Baker quickly followed suit on Thursday. The Republican had initially hoped more than a dozen states would sign on.

"The Baker-Polito Administration always maintained the Commonwealth would only move forward with TCI if multiple states committed, and, as that does not exist, the transportation climate initiative is no longer the best solution for the Commonwealth's transportation and environmental needs," Baker press secretary Terry MacCormack said in a written statement Thursday.

The governors of other New England states -- New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont -- had expressed skepticism about the program, in part over fears that it amounts to a gas tax or a tax on carbon.

The proposal was a long-term effort to curb greenhouse gas pollution caused by transportation.

It would have required large gasoline and diesel fuel suppliers to purchase "allowances" for the pollution caused by the use of the fuels they sell in the region.

The number of emission allowances would have declined each year, according to the plan, generating billions for states to invest in carbon-reducing transportation options -- like public transportation; zero-emission buses, cars, and trucks; electric vehicle charging stations; high speed wireless internet in rural and low-income areas to allow for teleworking; road and bridge repairs; and safer bike lanes and sidewalks.

The initiative could have generated more than $1.8 billion in Massachusetts by 2032, according to Baker. States participating in the initiative had agreed to invest 35% of annual revenues from the program in communities underserved by current transportation options and with disproportionately high levels of pollution.

From the start, however, critics -- including business and conservative groups -- pointed to potential gas price hikes. If fuel companies passed the cost of the allowances onto consumers, the price of gas in the region could have climbed by 5 to 17 cents per gallon.

Paul Diego Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, welcomed the collapse of the compact.

"TCI is a regressive gas tax scheme that would have hurt middle class and the working poor the most. It's such wonderful news to see that Massachusetts families will not be forced to endure the economic hardship TCI would have imposed upon them," said Craney.

Environmental and transportation groups said the goals of TCI remain important.

"For the sake of the entire Commonwealth -- but particularly our environmental justice populations that have been most adversely impacted by transportation pollution and by the COVID-19 pandemic -- reducing carbon emissions and tailpipe pollution must remain a high priority," Josh Ostroff of Transportation for Massachusetts, said in a press release.

MacCormack said the administration is focused on the $10 billion or so the state is set to receive for transportation under the infrastructure legislation signed into law this week by President Joe Biden.

"The new federal infrastructure funding package, American Rescue Plan investments, as well as tax revenue surpluses generated by Massachusetts' strong economic recovery make the Commonwealth better positioned to upgrade its roads, bridges and public transportation systems, while also making investments to reduce transportation emissions, deliver equitable transportation solutions and benefits and meet the state's ambitious climate goals," he said in a press release.

Massachusetts has taken other steps to reduce tailpipe pollution including setting a goal of 100% zero-emission passenger vehicle sales by 2035, joining 14 other states pushing for 30% electric vehicle sales for commercial trucks and buses by 2030 and 100% by 2050, and spending $65 million on electric vehicle charging stations.

Baker also signed an executive order setting a target of 100% zero emission vehicles in state fleets by 2040.

In New England, transportation is responsible for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.