Lori Brown, CTLCV Executive Director | Originally published with the Hartford Courant
When it comes to fighting climate change, Connecticut lawmakers need to think bigger.
State lawmakers originally introduced the Green New Deal — now rebranded as the Green Economy Act — with the express goal of spurring investment in clean energy, creating “green collar” jobs and fighting climate change. Sometime between being introduced and getting voted out of the energy and technology committee, the Green Economy Act was changed to support little more than anaerobic digestion.
Capitol insiders will tell you this language is just a placeholder for things to come. They are likely right. As lawmakers sit down to draft the revised Green Economy Act, they must devise a truly comprehensive plan to tackle climate change and protect our future.
The Green Economy Act could be a game-changer if it holds true to a simple purpose: to promote an equitable transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050 or sooner.
This should not be a heavy lift. More than 120 candidates on both sides of the aisle supported this concept when the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters surveyed them in 2018.
Moving to 100 percent clean energy is also the cornerstone to any plan to stop climate change, and it involves more than just building an offshore wind farm or putting up solar panels. A truly green economy would also promote equity, lower emissions, invest in energy infrastructure, support resiliency efforts and be accountable to the public.
At the heart of the Green Economy Act are the good, local jobs that investment in clean energy will bring. We need to make sure low- and moderate-income communities have access to the training and tools to land these new jobs. If we invest in workforce development in clean energy, efficiency projects and other green fields, we can ensure everyone has access to the brighter future we want to build.
Lawmakers can also pair job creation with lower emissions. The existing “Lead By Example” program hopes to cut our state’s energy use by 40 percent by converting state buildings, highway lights and other assets to greener alternatives. These projects should favor Connecticut companies in the bidding process and support local labor while making our state more efficient.
Along with buildings, transit is one of the key contributors to greenhouse gases. Our Green Economy should focus on building infrastructure for electric vehicles, electrifying our state fleet, investing in mass transit and even offering state employees the choice of public transportation benefits instead of parking.
With all of the jobs to be had in electrification and clean energy, we also need to stop subsidizing dirty fossil fuels like fracked gas. An analysis by Synapse Energy has shown demand for natural gas is on the decline. Let it die. End the pipeline tax so Connecticut ratepayers won’t be forced to pay for a pipeline they won’t need — especially as we move forward with offshore wind development.
While we invest in the future, Connecticut cannot ignore the damage climate change has already done. We cannot grow a green economy while rising seas threaten our coastline and toxic emissions poison our air. We must invest in resiliency programs, conservation and open space. Our woodlands are natural carbon sinks, soaking up harmful greenhouse gases. Supporting the Natural Heritage Trust Program and the Open Space and Watershed Matching Grants would go a long way towards shrinking our carbon footprint.
Such an ambitious menu of policies cannot simply be passed then ignored. We need a guiding body to ensure these proposals are working as intended, that no community is left behind, and that we are making the necessary progress to fight climate change. Whether this means adapting the Governor’s Council on Climate Change or creating a new task force, we need to include community leaders, policy experts and stakeholders to realize our ambitions and create a future we can all believe in.
This is a tall order, but it’s not out of reach. Climate is a growing concern among young people, and it will likely be a key platform of the 2020 elections. Lawmakers who rose to power in 2018 have a mandate to do something big, to tackle the problems Washington wants to ignore. Thousands have rallied. They deserve to be heard.
It’s time to think big.