Transportation

Massachusetts eyes ballot initiative to halt participation in the Transportation Climate Initiative

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On August 4, a citizens’ petition that would put a question about the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) on the Massachusetts ballot in 2022 was filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

The proposed ballot question proposes changing Massachusetts law to read:

“The supply of gasoline, diesel fuels, special fuels or similar motor fuels available to meet consumer demand shall not be reduced or restricted by the implementation of any tax, fee, other revenue generating mechanism, or market-based compliance mechanism.” 

If approved by voters, it would effectively make it impossible for Massachusetts to participate in the TCI.

The TCI is a regional compact that, if implemented, would attempt to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector by using a cap and trade system to charge fuel distributors for every pound of carbon burned by the fuels they sell. Critics of the TCI allege the cap on emissions, which declines over time, would limit the amount of fuel that can be sold and amount to an additional tax on top of the gas taxes charged by states.

The petition to put the question on the Massachusetts ballot was sponsored by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, including three state legislators and Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl. Rep. David DeCoste (R-Norwell) delivered the petition to the state attorney general’s office. It was also signed by Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

The heads of transportation, energy, and environmental agencies in 11 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, plus the District of Columbia (DC), signed a declaration of intent to enter into the TCI compact in 2010.

However, in the past decade, the majority of the jurisdictions that originally signed onto the TCI have since declined to implement the program. 

The first plans to put the TCI into place were announced in December 2020. The Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P) estimates it will cut carbon emissions by 26% in 2032 in participating regions by “requiring large gasoline and diesel fuel suppliers to purchase ‘allowances’ for the pollution caused by the combustion of fuels they sell in participating jurisdictions.”

The participating regions include Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia, the only jurisdictions to sign the memorandum of understanding circulated last December. The other eight states that initially signed onto the TCI announced they would work with jurisdictions participating in the TCI-P, but did not sign onto the memorandum of understanding themselves.

At the time the memorandum was signed, Gov. Janet Mills announced Maine would not be joining, citing concerns over the policy’s effect on the price of gas and the impact it would have on low-income Mainers.

Since signing the memorandum of understanding, Connecticut has delayed its participation. During state budget negotiations in June, Gov. Ned Lamont was forced to remove funding for Connecticut’s implementation of the TCI as part of a compromise deal. 

Rhode Island is one of the few remaining states to move toward implementing the TCI. In late June, the Rhode Island Senate approved a bill that would implement the program. The Rhode Island House of Representatives did not vote on the bill before ending its session and the program’s fate will likely be decided next year. Gov. Dan McKee has indicated he supports the plan. 

Whether Massachusetts ultimately decides to implement the TCI may be decided by voters. But if voters fail to pass the ballot question, should the program be approved, Massachusetts may still move forward with implementing the program.

Though Gov. Mills has so far been unwilling to implement the TCI in Maine, there is nothing to stop her from changing her mind, or stopping a future administration from unilaterally entering Maine into the compact.

The Transportation Working Group in the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future held a stakeholder working group in Spring 2020, and policy support for the TCI at the rural stakeholders meeting was divided.

According to the Maine Climate Council, transportation emissions account for 54% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of transportation emissions come from light-duty passenger cars and trucks in rural areas. Both Maine’s geography and its attraction as a tourist destination affect its emission rates.

Permanently settling the question of whether Maine will participate in the TCI could also come down to a future ballot question.

While some states, like Connecticut, require prior approval from the legislature before the governor can implement initiatives like TCI, Maine is not one of them. 

However, Maine residents could force the legislature to consider a change to state law similar to the change proposed in the ballot question recently submitted in Massachusetts. The Maine Constitution allows state statutes to be amended through citizen-initiated ballot measures. A successful petition would be presented to the state legislature, and if it is not adopted without change or put forward with a competing measure, is placed on a future statewide ballot for voters to consider.

Opponents of the measure in Massachusetts must collect more than 80,000 signatures by Nov. 17 to proceed to the next step of the ballot qualification process, according to WWLP.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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