Next for TCI: Draft Model Rule, State Level Implementation, and New Findings on Program Benefits

The public comment period on the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program’s (TCI-P) Draft Model Rule and processes for public engagement wraps up on May 7th. 

Meanwhile, legislators in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are working to pass the legislation needed to implement TCI-P. These three states, along with the District of Columbia, are the first of the TCI jurisdictions to launch the program, though other Northeastern states have continued to participate in the policy design process.

Last February, we wrote about the progress of TCI and next steps of the process. Let’s review what’s happened since then, and what we should expect before the proposed launch date of January 1st, 2023.

Progress Since the MOU

On December 21st, 2020, the governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and the mayor of the District of Columbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) announcing that their jurisdictions would be the first to launch the TCI-P. 

Policymakers in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia stated that they will remain in the broader-focused Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) and play an active role in shaping the TCI-P, with the possibility of joining the program in the future.

Between December and March, state agencies in the three participating states worked to finalize the draft model rule, which was announced on March 1st and is currently open for feedback until May 7th. On March 26th, officials in each jurisdiction presented additional information on the model rule in a webinar.

On the legislative side, Connecticut and Rhode Island need to pass bills to allow state agencies to implement TCI-P. In Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont proposed a bill in the Senate on February 10th. Governor Lamont’s bill includes a 50% minimum investment in environmental justice communities, compared to the 35% proposed in the MOU. On March 31st, the bill passed in committee by a margin of 18-8, and will now go to full floor vote.

No legislation has been introduced to implement TCI-P in Rhode Island. In an interview with Climate XChange, Allison Archambault, Senior Air Quality Specialist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), spoke about the process of policy design and implementation in Rhode Island. “The most important hurdle that needs to be overcome is legislation needs to be introduced.”. Rhode Island recently passed its most serious piece of climate legislation since 2014.

Archambault anticipates that legislation would be proposed within the coming weeks in order to meet the proposed January 1st, 2023 start date of the program. Rhode Island’s 2021 legislative session ends on June 30th.

Massachusetts already has the authority to implement TCI; however, Senator Joseph Boncore (D-Suffolk and Middlesex) has introduced legislation that would allow for quick implementation of TCI-P. In addition to outlining the investment areas where the proceeds will be used, the bill calls for at least 70% of TCI-P proceeds to benefit environmental justice communities, compared to the 35% minimum required by the TCI-P MOU. Further, the Massachusetts bill calls for a majority of members of the Equity Advisory Board — a group of stakeholders designed to advise on decision making and equitable outcomes — to be residents of communities with environmental justice populations.

Revenue Investment 

TCI-P is a regional program, but implementation occurs on the state level. According to Archambault, after Rhode Island passes legislation, RIDEM plans to implement state specific regulations. 

Archambult noted that there will be additional opportunities for public review and comment before regulations are finalized. “That’s going to be another important step in the process to make sure we get the public feedback and review that we want and need specifically here in Rhode Island,” she said.

Concurrent and after the regulatory process, states must plan for investment. This process has already started on the regional level, but Archambault noted the importance of state-specific investment plans: “In Rhode Island, it’s going to be important for us to receive the public input on how the program proceeds should be invested.”

Archambault discussed several potential investment portfolio scenarios: investing in bike paths and pedestrian paths, electric vehicles, infrastructure, and grid connectivity. “There’s a slew of investment portfolios and strategies out there, but no decisions have been made yet on where the money should be invested.”

She pointed to the Rhode Island Clean Transportation and Mobility Innovation Report, published in January 2021, which provides insight to where the program investments may be made and their benefits.

Concerns About Equity And Justice

Environmental justice will be a critical part of the conversation around TCI revenue investment. The program has been met with criticism from environmental justice advocates throughout the policy design process, eventually holding a public webinar on September 29th, 2020, in which jurisdictions shared proposals to incorporate equity provisions. 

The final TCI-P MOU aims to include environmental justice in four ways: (1) a 35% required minimum investment in frontline communities; (2) an “equity advisory board” to help guide the state agencies on how to best spend the funds for an equitable outcome; (3) an annual report from each jurisdiction that describes equity achievements in the past year; and (4) a commitment to create complementary policies that amplify the impact of the TCI program on environmental justice. 

However, environmental justice advocates in several TCI jurisdictions have criticized the proposed MOU for not doing enough to ensure equitable distribution of proceeds from the program. 

Advocates in Connecticut argue that Governor Lamount’s legislation is not ambitious enough. RACCE, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Dream Corps Green For All, and the Transport Hartford Academy at the Center for Latino Progress all call for Connecticut’s investment in frontline communities to be raised to a minimum of 50%, citing the 70% minimum proposed in the Massachusetts legislation.

Opposition from several environmental justice groups was central to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s decision not to participate in TCI-P. In a press conference after his decision he stated: “We’ve got to be careful about what we’re asking folks to bear here.” 

In a press release from Clean Water Action, a prominent environmental group in New Jersey, advocates listed several problems with TCI. They asserted that the program fails to mandate emissions reductions, does not guarantee that funds will benefit climate initiatives or environmental justice communities, and imposes a regressive tax fee structure. Executive Director Amy Goldsmith stated: “Given the climate, racial justice, economic, political and public health crises, we cannot afford to be timid. We need big bold solutions that the environmental justice community in New Jersey has been demanding for a long time like mandatory pollution reductions in communities Of Color and low-income communities.”

Kathy Fallon Lambert, program manager of the Transportation, Equity, Climate and Health (TRECH) Project at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard.T.H. Chan School of Public Health, spoke with Climate XChange about the concerns with TCI’s approach to equity. “We know that racism has led to large disparities in air pollution exposure, with Black people and people of color experiencing higher air pollution and health effects than predominantly white communities. This is a problem that needs to be squarely addressed.”

Lambert hinted at the national debate between regulatory approaches and market-mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions, which is most clearly exemplified in California. California’s long-standing tensions between cap-and-trade supporters and environmental justice activists have served as a backdrop for the national debate. “ Regulatory approaches that set strict limits on air pollution from specific sources lead to air quality improvements that are easier to quantify and guarantee. In the case of TCI, the benefits that we estimate assume that a cap and invest approach will achieve certain emissions reductions. It’s important to include air quality monitoring in these hardest hit areas so that if for some reason, the air quality benefits don’t materialize, that will be transparent and can be properly addressed.”

Lambert outlined the potential for transportation policy to reduce air pollution, while asserting that further action beyond TCI is necessary to address the disparity in air pollution between communities of color and white communities: 

“The results of our research show that if the investments are made as assumed in the scenarios and if all the states eventually join, that the health benefits from reduced air pollution could be substantial. It also shows that there’s the potential for overburdened communities to see relatively larger benefits. However, we project that the gaps in disparities in air pollution exposure between people of color and largely white communities would persist. Addressing those disparities should be a top priority and would likely require action beyond what is possible through TCI.”

What else did the TRECH study find?

Lambert leads a multi-university research initiative conducting analysis of policy scenarios to address carbon pollution from the transportation sector, including TCI. The project’s first paper on benefits from investments in active mobility was recently published in the Journal of Urban Health. According to Archambault — who has used the TRECH project’s findings in her work at RIDEM — the TRECH project’s findings will crucially inform how states create and then implement their investment portfolio. 

According to Lambert, the research suggests that if all 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and D.C.  join TCI, and they invested a large share of proceeds in infrastructure to support biking, walking, and public transit, then the program could save hundreds of lives each year due to the health benefits from increased activity.

“To put that in context, these benefits are even larger than what we estimate for air quality and climate related benefits from the TCI scenarios we examined. It highlights the importance of investing in alternative forms of transportation and ensuring that all people have access to safe biking, walking, and public transit,” she said.

Lambert highlighted four areas of future research. First, the TRECH team aims to integrate the effects of any changes in emissions from the electricity sector that may come from the electrification of transportation. Second, the team aims to perform a local case study of Boston, since one of the limitations of the study is that the air pollution work is done at a 12 by 12 kilometer grid. Third, the team will look at the distribution of benefits by race, race and ethnicity, and income. 

Finally, in the next phase of the project, the team is partnering with environmental justice organizations and frontline communities to compare the results of the TCI scenarios with community-defined alternatives. 

Next Steps for TCI

A public opinion poll conducted by Climate Nexus and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) last fall found that 70 percent of Eastern U.S. voters support the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). “Large majorities of voters want their state to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative to kickstart the regional economy, modernize the transportation system, reduce climate change, and expand the use of electric vehicles, while prioritizing communities of color who are often disproportionately affected by pollution,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

The Biden Administration is hedging on public support for investments in transportation with the announcement of the American Jobs Plan. The President’s plan proposes $621 billion for transportation infrastructure and resilience, with goals to modernize public transit, create good jobs electrifying vehicles, and redress historic inequities. TCI has many of the same goals.

In the coming months, TCI jurisdictions will work to revise the Draft Model Rule. Additionally, policymakers in each jurisdiction will work with the community to create state-specific plans for revenue investment. These plans — and the process through which they are created — will be critical to the participant state agencies’ continued partnerships with environmental justice and advocacy groups.

Once completed, the Model Rule will be adapted for use in each state. Emissions and fuel shipment data reporting will begin January 1, 2022, and the program is set to officially begin one year later.

If you’d like to comment on the Draft Module Rule or process of public engagement, be sure to write a comment in the online portal before May 7th.

Featured Image: Photo by Noya Fields via Flickr