Transportation

Gov. Mills keeps Maine out of regional gas tax scheme, at least for now

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Last week, the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) released its final Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was signed by the governors of only three states: Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The mayor of Washington D.C. also signed onto the coalition.

Twelve states were originally supposed to participate in the TCI, a regional cap and trade program seeks to accelerate our transition to clean energy in the transportation sector by making gasoline and diesel fuel prohibitively expensive. Under the plan, fuel suppliers delivering to and from the TCI region must purchase allowances for the carbon emitted by their fuel products, with the cost of the allowances being passed onto consumers in the form of higher gasoline and diesel prices at the pump. Over time, the allowances would be reduced while the cost to acquire them would increase, forcing people to transition away from gas-powered motor vehicles.

When the final details of the plan were released on Dec. 21, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signaled more skepticism about the program and did not sign the agreement. According to the Associated Press, Gov. Mills said she has “continuing concerns” about how the TCI would affect the price of gasoline and the impact that increase would have on low-income Mainers.

“We have the most dispersed population of any state in the country,” Mills said.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu rejected the agreement for the same reasons when the TCI released its draft MOU in December 2019, calling the plan a “financial boondoggle” while stressing its harmful impacts on residents in rural areas of the state.

Accompanying the release last week was an additional statement from the TCI that it would continue to work with jurisdictions that did not sign the final MOU to “develop a model rule and other clean transportation and emission reduction program elements that could be implemented within each jurisdiction.” Maine was not included as a participating jurisdiction in that letter.

Until last week, it was unclear if Mills intended to enter Maine into the agreement. She had previously said that new gas taxes are not something she wants to “glom onto”, but her Climate Council released the final draft of its climate action plan earlier this month that did not reject entering into the pact, saying only that it would “continue to monitor” the terms of the agreement.

Nonetheless, Gov. Mills could still choose to enter Maine into the program at a later date, though that seems unlikely given her opposition to the plan thus far. Ultimately, the issue should be decided by Maine lawmakers, who will get the opportunity to debate the issue in the upcoming legislative session.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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