Connecticut drivers have paid hundreds of millions in clean air costs and emissions. Where did they go?

If you recently renewed your vehicle registration, you may have noticed two separate charges on your bill: the Clean Air Act fee and the greenhouse gas reduction fee. Together, they add an additional $ 15 to the cost of renewing your vehicle’s registration.

Over the past decade, Connecticut drivers have paid $ 268 million in emissions and air quality costs, but instead of actually funding emissions reduction measures, the money has been poured in. in the General Fund and the Special Transport Fund, to be used literally for anything. .

Connecticut drivers may soon have to pay additional fees or taxes on gasoline purchases to support greenhouse gas reductions if Gov. Ned Lamont and some lawmakers are successful in pushing through the Transportation and Transportation Initiative. weather.

According to the Office of Legislative Research, the Clean Air Act fees were originally deposited into a Clean Air account to cover the costs of the state agency for the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the funding of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection staff to enforce air pollution laws. .

The greenhouse gas reduction fee was established in 2006 in a clean car law and levied a $ 5 fee on the purchase of new vehicles. The fee revenue would also be deposited into the Clean Air Account, which would fund greenhouse gas labeling stickers on vehicles and environmental education initiatives.

Debate in the Senate and House of Representatives over greenhouse gas reduction fees has largely focused on combating global warming, according to legislative history.

“This bill is very important,” Senator Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport, said during the Senate debate. “The water on our planet is heating up. It’s rising. The Long Island Strait and other bodies are heating up. We have 3.4 million people in Connecticut driving over 2.5 million cars covering 31 billion miles per year. We are conducting a science experiment on our planet, and we are adding carbon to our atmosphere at a rate that the planet cannot handle.

However, just three years later, in 2009, the legislature began channeling costs directly into the General Fund and the Special Transport Fund. It also eliminated “the ability of DMV and DEEP to use funds for GHG labeling and education programs,” according to the OLR report.

There are currently no restrictions on the use of CAA fee income, except that it is allocated between the General Fund and the STF. Thus, the money collected from the fees can be used for any expense of the General Fund or the STF.

Office of Legislative Research

“There are currently no restrictions on the use of CAA fee income, except that it is distributed between the general fund and the STF,” the OLR report said. “Thus, the money collected from the fees can be used for any expense of the General Fund or the STF.”

A review of Connecticut’s Clean Air Account income going back ten years shows that $ 80.2 million has gone into the general fund, while $ 97.7 million has been deposited into the STF.

Until 2020, the greenhouse gas reduction charge was only applied to the purchase of new vehicles. Now, the fee is levied on used car purchases, as well as license renewals, and the new vehicle purchase fee has been increased to $ 10, meaning the state will collect much more. money on fees than in previous years.

The first $ 3 million in revenue from greenhouse gas reduction fees will now be used to support rebates on the purchase of electric vehicles in Connecticut.

Even without the extension of the greenhouse gas reduction fee to used cars and vehicle registration, the revenue generated from these two fees alone over ten years was over $ 55.7 million. dollars that Connecticut will receive over ten years from the Volkswagen settlement.

Even without the extension of the greenhouse gas reduction fee to used cars and vehicle registrations, the revenue generated from these two fees alone over ten years was over $ 55.7 million. Connecticut will receive a ten-year Volkswagen settlement after it was revealed the automaker had lied about its diesel vehicle emissions.

But these are not the only emission-related fees that the state collects. Vehicle registration renewals require an emissions test and drivers pay a $ 20 fee that goes to the test facility to cover their time and costs.

However, in 2004, Connecticut exempted new vehicles from emissions testing for the first four years because emission test failure rates were low. Instead, the vehicle buyer pays an auto emissions exemption fee of $ 40 which goes into the Special Transportation Fund.

Over the past ten years, the program exemption fees have generated $ 91.4 million and, although they are labeled as an emissions fee, they can be used for anything that is funded by the STF. .

It’s not just drivers who pay environmental charges in Connecticut. Each state taxpayer also pays a fee that goes to the Connecticut Green Bank, called the Renewable Energy Investment Charge.

Renewable energy investment costs generated $ 24.8 million for the Green Bank in 2020, according to financial statements. The Green Bank is a quasi-public agency that invests in energy efficiency measures like solar panels for homes.

However, in 2017, lawmakers plundered $ 67.5 million from the Green Bank to help reduce the budget deficit, the fourth and largest sweep.

All of this means that in any given year, Connecticut residents who drive cars and pay electric bills contributed an estimated $ 50 million to the state in the form of fees intended to reduce emissions and improve air quality. Protecting the environment, Connecticut is not meeting its emission reduction targets, in large part because of transportation emissions.

The Connecticut General Assembly set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. According to DEEP’s annual emissions report, Connecticut’s emissions in 2018 were more than 2.9% at 1990 levels and the fault lies with the drivers, claiming that vehicle emissions have in fact increased by 3% since 2014.

However, the problem is not the fuel efficiency of vehicles. The report notes that Connecticut residents drive more fuel-efficient vehicles. The problem is that they have to travel greater distances, which leads to an increase in overall emissions.

The report recommends the implementation of the TCI program as a solution to reduce vehicle emissions. DEEP and Commissioner Katie Dykes – working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Governor Ned Lamont – lobbied for the TCI program in Connecticut.

The TCI program would place a decreasing cap on emissions from gasoline and diesel fuel in Connecticut and would require wholesalers and fuel distributors to buy emission credits at auction. The proceeds from the auction would be split between an account within the Special Fund for Transportation and Climate Justice Initiatives in Cities with a focus on electric vehicles, charging stations and public transportation.

The program is expected to bring in around $ 100 million per year, but would cause gasoline prices to rise at the pump, a tough sell as gasoline prices have been steadily rising to some of their highest prices. high over the past decade.

However, some of TCI’s most ardent supporters argue that the program will not actually reduce the amount of gasoline that Connecticut residents buy or the amount of driving they do.

In an editorial for the Connecticut Post, Representative Christine Palm, D-Chester, pointed to the dramatic increase in gasoline prices as evidence that TCI’s effect on fuel prices will not actually stop people from drive, but will instead provide a funding stream for electricity buses, asthma reduction, electric vehicle charging stations, senior shuttles and streetcars.

But Connecticut’s track record of fundraising initiatives through fees and dedicated accounts is not stellar.

Connecticut’s Tobacco and Health Trust Fund – created from the state’s $ 2 billion share of the settlement with the cigarette makers – received only $ 200 million and even that amount was plundered by the legislature to help fill budget deficits. In 2018, the account’s income was suspended.

Following the death of a teenager in a school bus accident, the legislature increased the fees charged to drivers to reinstate their suspended license by $ 50 in order to finance the purchase of seat belts for school buses by the government. through a school bus seat belt account.

According to CT Mirror, “Lawyers sold lawmakers the increased cost of reinstating a suspended driver’s license from $ 125 to $ 175, saying it was a small price to pay for children’s safety.

While the fees generated around $ 2 million per year, the funds were instead used to fill budget gaps. School buses still do not have seat belts, but the additional $ 50 fee for reinstating a driver’s license remains.

The recent expansion of greenhouse gas reduction fees will at least partially go towards reducing vehicle emissions through Connecticut’s electric vehicle rebate program called CHEAPR.

While this can make EVs cheaper for those who buy them, the price of owning and driving a combustion engine car, including filling at the pump, can become higher.

Marc E. Fitch was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and his work has appeared in The Federalist, American Thinker, The Skeptical Inquirer, World Net Daily, and Real Clear Policy. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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