As heat wave grips Connecticut, Gov. Lamont highlights new climate change laws

As Connecticut and much of the world battle a brutal summer heat wave, Gov. Ned Lamont is highlighting a series of new climate change laws. But the state has a long way to go to meet its environmental goals.
Flanked by two electric buses in New Haven on Friday, Lamont and fellow Democrats touted the recently signed Connecticut Clean Air Act.
"We are sitting here in well over 90-degree heat. It's day after day of this,” said state Sen. Christine Cohen (D-Guilford). “Climate change is upon us, and it’s time to act.”
Since electric vehicles cost more, the new law expands cash rebates. Drivers can claim up to $9,500, the most generous incentive in the nation. Rebates now apply to cars under $50,000
Buyers can also claim up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, depending on the model they purchase.
"What we do here, when we lead in Connecticut, is that we demonstrate the possibility,” Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “We show how these technologies can be adopted."
According to a summary from Lamont's office, other provisions of the Connecticut Clean Air Act include:
• Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicle Standards: Authorizes the DEEP commissioner to adopt regulations implementing California’s medium- and heavy-duty motor vehicle standards. These standards will ensure that manufacturers are producing cleaner vehicles and offering them for sale in Connecticut, giving prospective consumers more options while reducing a major source of in-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
• State Fleet Electrification: Modifies the schedule for electrifying the state fleet, prohibits procurement of diesel-powered buses after January 1, 2024.
• Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR) Program: Makes numerous changes to the CHEAPR program, including making the CHEAPR board advisory-only, modifying the board’s membership, giving priority to low-income individuals and residents of environmental justice communities, and extending eligibility to businesses, municipalities, nonprofits, and e-bikes; directs all of the greenhouse gas reduction fee and part of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds to the CHEAPR account.
• Zero Emission School Buses: Allows for ten-year school transportation contracts if the contract includes at least one zero-emission school bus; sets target of 100% zero-emission school buses in environmental justice communities by 2030, and for all school districts by 2040; establishes a matching grant program of up to $20 million for the EPA Clean School Bus program.
• Medium and Heavy-Duty Truck Vouchers: Allows DEEP to establish a voucher program to support the use of zero-emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles and funds the program from the CHEAPR account.
• Traffic Signal Grant Program: Requires CTDOT to establish a matching grant program to help municipalities modernize existing traffic signal equipment.
• Right to Charge: Establishes “right to charge” in condominiums and common interest communities, provides for “renter’s right to charge” with certain specifications.
• New Construction Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Requirements: Requires a certain percentage of parking spaces in certain new construction to be equipped with either EV charging stations or charging station infrastructure.
Despite Connecticut's aggressive moves on climate change, the state has a long way to go. According to the DEEP’s most recent data, emissions went up in 2018, literally "driven" by vehicles.
The state is well-short of its goal of 125,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025. Many drivers say there just aren’t enough chargers available. To combat the problem, Connecticut is offering up to $500,000 in cash incentives to install new ones. The money is coming from the federal government. Customers can apply through Eversource or United Illuminating.
But supply chain issues are holding up the process. United Illuminating says installations are facing six-month delays.
"The challenge is equipment availability,” said Marriott Dowden, United Illuminating’s EV program manager. "Transformers, switchboards -- the lead time to get this equipment -- as well as EVSE, the chargers themselves. It's holding up a lot of projects."
Lamont also abandoned efforts to join the Transportation Climate Intitiative, a multistate effort to cap carbon emissions by charging wholesale fuel distributors for pollution "credits." Republicans called TCI a "gas tax."
This year, Connecticut also passed a law committing to a carbon-free electric grid by 2040. To make it happen, the state is investing heavily in wind power, But to meet the goal, the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford must remain open. Right now, that’s only guaranteed until 2029.
Critics say the goal is unrealistic and could lead to higher power bills.
"I think we're doing it in a fake way because we're purchasing -- we're purchasing energy elsewhere in order to bring those numbers down,” state Rep. Jay Case (R-Winchester) said during legislative debate on April 28.
But with climate change already here, environmental groups say it all might be too little, too late.