Advocates demand fairness when it comes to reducing transport pollution – ecoRI News



By CAITLIN FAULDS / ecoRI News staff

As the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) and Rhode Island’s Community Transportation and Mobile Emissions Act (TEAM) prepare for another season of legislative debate, interstate advocates are pushing to ensure that the provisions The fairness of the program does not end up as false promises.

During a round table on November 4 organized by a climate advocacy group Green for all, transportation and environmental justice advocates in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut shared strategies to achieve the equity goals outlined in TCI.

“Key equity safeguards will be needed to ensure that disproportionately affected communities benefit meaningfully from the program and can see this outcome,” said session moderator and Green for All campaign manager. , Nicole Wong.

TCI is a regional cap and investment system that would reduce vehicle emissions by 26% by 2032 and require fuel suppliers to buy allowances for the carbon produced by the fuel they sell. The initiative is regional in scope, but state governments must draft, adopt and fund individual programs to put TCI in motion.

In Massachusetts, the initiative gained early support from Governor Charlie Baker in 2019. It hit a roadblock in Connecticut earlier this year when the governor withdrew it from the state budget. In Rhode Island, the TEAM Community Act, which provides the necessary framework for the state’s membership in the TCI, was passed by the Senate but died pending consideration by the House. It should be reviewed at the next session.

Elements of equity outlined in TCI include establishing a community advisory board made up of various stakeholders, monitoring air quality in heavily polluted communities, and allocating at least 35% of revenue from TCI to “overburdened and underserved” communities.

If states pass the TCI legislation, participating governments expect the initiative to generate about $ 3 billion for green transportation options over 10 years, including about $ 20 million per year in Rhode Island. About $ 100 million a year is expected to be spent on transport projects in vulnerable communities, but advocates have said there is a margin of error in how states distribute that money.

“Rhode Island… has only committed to investing a minimum of 35% in environmental justice communities,” said Mal Skowron, transportation program and policy coordinator for the. Green Energy Consumers Alliance. “But we don’t know who is considered an environmental justice community.”

According to Skowron, the funds will only achieve their purpose if there is a “strong statewide definition” for which populations are “overburdened and underserved”.

Dwaign Tyndal, Executive Director of Boston Alternatives for the community and the environment (ACE), said Massachusetts clearly knew where to direct TCI’s money. But without enforcement, he said that definition wouldn’t mean much.

“We have it on paper, now the struggle becomes a political struggle,” he said, noting how the “richest country in the world” has repeatedly denied resources to black and brown communities.

Mark Mitchell, Founder and Senior Policy Advisor for the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental and Economic Justice, said Connecticut lawmakers have lobbied to bring environmental justice groups to the table to discuss the fairness provisions of the TCI. This is a big change from past initiatives and a big step towards “focusing on equity,” he said, but organizations with limited state resources have struggled to capitalize on regional momentum.

Skowron agreed that TCI’s talks brought many advocacy organizations to the table in Rhode Island. More could be done, she said, to listen to neighborhood experts with lived experience and local knowledge, rather than outside consultants who may not be familiar with the issues at hand.

“Let’s listen to and use that expertise, and reward it fairly for the time they spend advising the state,” she said.

In addition to valuing neighborhood voices, Tyndal said neighborhood-level health and transportation data analyzes would be a useful tool to ensure that TCI revenues are allocated to areas most in need. Currently, he said there are no small-scale data for the state of Massachusetts on these issues, including air quality.

Public health analyzes therefore often cover too large an area. They cannot address the specific concerns of communities close to highways and other sources of pollution – communities that are often overwhelmingly low-income, black or brown, he said.

According to Tyndal, ACE is working with the Harvard School of Public Health to develop an air quality monitoring system for the Roxbury neighborhood and a linked phone app that would provide data directly to residents. They hope the system will serve as a model for local and federal governments and help inform resource allocation through initiatives like TCI.

“Frontline communities facing generational air quality issues need these resources… to start showing the cumulative impact on our air quality,” he said.

Prioritizing the links between transportation and health will be key to turning TCI’s paper promises into action on the ground, according to Mitchell, who is also a physician in preventive medicine and professor of health equity at George Mason University. . And with fair implementation, he said cracking down on TCI emissions could lead to a tangible decrease in asthma and other illnesses linked to air pollution.

“Environmental justice communities are primarily concerned about health because we die from diseases from air pollution, from water pollution,” Mitchell said. “This is why I think TCI is so important.”


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