Senate Passes the Connecticut Clean Air Act

Senators Cohen and Haskell lead vote to reduce emissions and protect clean air for next generation


Today, the State Senate passed Senate Bill 4, also known as the Connecticut Clean Air Act. This is an ambitious and detailed effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and push Connecticut toward a greener and healthier future. This legislation focuses on the transportation sector, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and asthma-causing pollutants. State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport), Senate Chair of the Transportation Committee, joined State Senator Christine Cohen (D-Guilford), Senate Chair of the Environment Committee, in leading debate on the Senate floor Tuesday. The bill passed 24-11.

"I think it was Wendell Barry who wrote ‘the planet is what we all have in common.’ It’s true — we are in this together, for better or for worse,” said Sen. Haskell. “We saw a stark partisan divide today, and I suppose that’s the nature of this building. But I think it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as Republican air or Democratic air. There’s only dirty air that makes us sick and clean air that keeps us alive. As the climate crisis worsens, as asthma rates increase, as smog leads to more emergency room visits, as children start and end their day coughing up diesel exhaust on a school bus, it silly that partisanship continues to divide us. In the future, we won’t be asked who we voted for but instead whether or not we voted to avert the public health crisis, the environmental crisis, the economic crisis of climate change. Today I’m so proud that Senator Cohen and I had the chance to fight for the next generation.” "I'm incredibly proud of this bill," Sen. Cohen said. "I'm also grateful for the hard work and collaboration with the Transportation Committee and my friend and colleague, Senator Will Haskell. Together we have worked diligently with other committees, agencies, advocates and even adversaries to land on a thoughtful and crucial piece of legislation that will move Connecticut forward to a place of better health, more sustainable transportation options and cleaner air."

"Recent studies have shown that Connecticut is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to our air quality," Sen. Cohen continued. "We have not been meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, and we have failed to comply with national standards for ozone. Now, with this bill we have the opportunity to leverage federal funds, to mitigate climate change, to help our businesses electrify their truck fleets, and to improve the air quality and health outcomes for all Connecticut residents."

Senate Bill 4 updates Connecticut's efforts to go green in ways including:

  • Emphasizing the state's efforts to shift to electric vehicles by regulating that by 2026, at least 50% of cars and light trucks purchased by the state will be alternative-fueled, hybrid electric or plug-in electric vehicles, with that rate rising to 100% by 2030.
  • Ending the purchase or lease of any diesel-fueled transit bus, shifting to electric buses for public transportation, in the state beginning in 2024.
  • Installing electric vehicle charging stations across the state, with existing standards for installation being simplified, installation emphasizing access and use across the state and future state facilities including schools being constructed with electric charging stations in mind.
  • Overhauling the CHEAPR electric vehicle rebate systems, with changes made including increases to available rebate amounts, increases to the cap on vehicle prices eligible for rebates, increases to low-income electric vehicle rebates and expansion of rebate eligibility to include business fleets and electric bicycles. Rebates and vouchers will be prioritized to residents of environmental justice communities, residents with household incomes at or below 300% of federal poverty levels and residents participating in state and federal assistance programs.
    • Municipalities, businesses, nonprofit organizations or tribal entities can receive electric vehicle rebates through CHEAPR to purchase electric vehicles or replace current fleets with electric-powered ones.
    • CHEAPR will provide rebates for purchases of electric bicycles valued at up to $3,000 not less than $500.
  • The state will invest in a matching grant program supporting municipalities modernizing traffic signal equipment and operations to ensure that equipment matches modern traffic flow and demand, seeking to significantly reduce emissions caused by traffic and idling.
  • The state will create regulations and methodologies to ensure transportation projects increasing greenhouse gases offset such emissions by undertaking greenhouse gas mitigation transportation projects including, but not limited to, improving public transit, constructing bikeways, pedestrian walkways and more.
  • The legislation recognizes the historic federal infrastructure legislation and includes state bond funds to leverage these federal dollars for our local communities to transition hundreds of diesel school buses to electric buses.
  • The state will adopt medium- and heavy-duty motor vehicle standards adopted by California, seeking to heavily reduce emissions from vehicles responsible for some of the state's highest rates of greenhouse gases. In doing so it will create a voucher program to transition to cleaner electric vehicles and plan transportation projects to offset emissions.
  • While Connecticut has a marked goal to reduce greenhouse emissions by 45% in 2030 compared to similar rates in 2001, the state has seen its emissions rise in relation to that goal, as Connecticut drivers travel more miles per day now than increased vehicle efficiency can reduce emissions. Further, the state has a goal of 137,500 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, a pace it is running significantly behind.

These efforts to reduce emissions and emphasize greener modes of transportation will play a significant role in aiding Connecticut's efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. From 2017 to 2018, vehicle emissions in Connecticut grew by 2.7%, with the state's results about 3% higher than its 2020 emissions goal. Transportation emissions are valued at more than double the combined emissions of the electricity and residential sectors and have risen since 1990 despite a 16% improvement in per-mile emission in that period. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said meeting emission goals will require strategies to improve fuel economy and reduce vehicle miles traveled, strongly supporting the efforts of the Clean Air Act.

The rising frequency and intensity of severe weather in Connecticut may be early indicators of serious effects in the state without adjustments – rising seas on the coasts, higher temperatures especially inland, heavier rainfall, more frequent droughts and more destructive hurricanes all have the potential to harm the state without significant action like that taken in Senate Bill 4.

Just as important: the state saw 21 days with unhealthy levels of ozone in 2021, the highest in New England, with five of its eight counties receiving "F" grades on ozone levels from the American Lung Association. These conditions can cause or aggravate serious lung conditions including asthma and emphysema, with long-term exposure possibly causing long-term health problems and reproductive and developmental harm. With these conditions worse in cities, residents in those cities – who in many cases do not contribute vehicle emissions in their communities – suffer disproportionately compared to the rest of the state. Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford all ranked among the worst urban areas in the United States through racial disparities in exposure to pollutants.

Chadwick Schroeder, sustainability manager for the City of Bridgeport, testified that Bridgeport, one of the state's most diverse cities, sees significant inequality with even the town's census tracks based on income correlating to higher rates of asthma and heart disease. "Residents in the City of Bridgeport do not only bear a significant environmental burden compared to neighboring municipalities, but also have significantly lower levels of wealth, educational attainment and higher levels of disease," Schroeder said – and stronger action needs to be taken to ensure residents bearing the largest burden can access and use resources dedicated toward them, he continued, such as actions taken in SB4.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Administration, in public testimony, gave support to a number of measures of the legislation, including the ease of installing charging stations due to reduced financial burden for small businesses; expansion of CHEAPR to benefit vehicle adoption, especially for business fleets; the Clean Air Act fee's use to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions; and emphasis on rural business entities allowing installation statewide.