CT activists plan to push climate change bill in special session – The Connecticut Mirror

Join CT Mirror and its members in the work of producing unbiased journalism for Connecticut.
Subscribe to CT Mirror’s free daily newsletters.

CT Mirror
Connecticut's Nonprofit Journalism.
Environmentalists are regrouping for one final push on Senate Democratic allies to address climate change in the limited special session planned for this month to deal with non-controversial car tax and banking issues.
The House voted on May 1 for a bill that would have declared a climate crisis in Connecticut and outlined steps to sharply reduce greenhouse gases by 2050, but the annual session ended on May 8 without a vote by the Senate.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday he wants climate off the table in the brief special session, but he is open to addressing it in a lame-duck session after the election this fall.
Advocates of the bill say Democrats are punting on an issue that defines differences between the parties in an election year, antagonizing elements of the Democratic base and undermining one of President Joe Biden’s favorite talking points.
“If they don’t pass it, they are going to get beat up. I’ve told them that,” said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.
“I do think it’s going to redound against us with young voters,” said Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Get CT Mirror’s latest government and public policy reporting in your inbox daily.

Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, who favors taking up the bill in special session, said he believes some Senate Democrats will yet try to convince their leaders to accept a broader special session.
“I know many of my fellow senators are going to reach out and connect,” said Anwar, a pulmonologist who has called climate change a health issue.
Gov. Ned Lamont unilaterally can include climate in the call for a special session he will issue later this month. A prominent cleric and activist, the Rev. Dr. Davida Crabtree, urged him to do so Tuesday in a face-to-face conversation at a bill signing ceremony at a retirement community in Bloomfield.
But as a practical matter, the governor typically negotiates the scope of a special session with the General Assembly’s two top leaders, Looney and House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford. In effect, they are deferring to Looney, who prefers the issue not be tackled.
Crabtree, described on her Linked In page as a “mostly retired” member of the clergy, is a coordinator of Third Act Connecticut, a movement of elders “to leave a better legacy in the arenas of climate, democracy and justice.” She quietly but urgently urged the governor to put climate back on the table.
Lamont told Crabtree he supported passage of the climate crisis bill and was open to action in June — if the Senate agreed, said Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, who was present for Crabtree’s pitch to the governor.
“Right now, they are all pointing at each other,” Brown said. “It requires leadership.”
Lamont called Palm the day after the regular session ended to commiserate over the bill’s death from inaction in the Senate, she said. The bill was heavy on incentives to minimize the use of fossil fuels, some geared at capitalizing on the federal funds available to the states on climate-related infrastructure.
The declaration of a crisis would carry no legal authority but would reinforce that official policy in Connecticut is moving away from fossil fuels without mandating a specific replacement. It would have set greenhouse gas emissions standards for state agencies and align the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act with neighboring states. 
Looney is a progressive often more willing than Lamont or Ritter to push a liberal agenda, but he has confused environmentalists by declining to agree to action on a bill he publicly supports.
“I frankly can’t understand why they wouldn’t do it,” Brown said, predicting a lopsided vote for passage in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 24-12 advantage. “If they bring it up, it will pass. The votes are there.”
The House passed the bill, 94-56, after a one-sided debate in which Republicans tried to draw Democrats into an argument over whether fossil fuels are to blame for a warming planet. Every Republican was opposed.
“Climate is the new bugaboo for the Republican base,” Palm said.  
Palm declined to speculate on the Senate leadership’s reluctance to act on climate.
“Who’s the good guys and who’s the bad guys and the internecine chess game is of very little interest to me, as opposed to the the effects of doing nothing, which are enormous,” Palm said. 
Rather than call a vote on the climate bill as the regular session wound down, Looney opted instead to push a measure opposed by Lamont that would provide state financial aid to strikers. It passed on the final night but is destined for a promised veto.
Do you know the answer? Play this week’s news quiz to find out.
Looney said Tuesday his caucus had preferred Senate Bill 11, a measure addressing climate resiliency with, among other things, mandates on municipalities to change their zoning, to the climate crisis legislation, House Bill 5004.
“That, I think, had more ambitious and substantive content than 5004,” Looney said. The Senate never voted on Senate Bill 11, concluding it would not be taken up by the House.
The bill favored by Looney would have imposed requirements on municipalities to adopt zoning regulations designed to protect against sea level rise, extreme heat and climate change.
“That’s what made it controversial,” Palm said.
Looney said he was open to combining elements of the two bills in legislation that could be passed after the election in November. Doing so now would be too ambitious, he said.
“The narrow question is, are we doing climate in the special session?” Ritter said. “If we are, we still have time to figure it out.”
Ritter supports the climate bill, but he noted that setting the limits for what can be taken up in a special session often is more complicated than one would assume.
“Every special session is tricky,” Ritter said. “If something gets added, then somebody else wants something, and then somebody else wants something. And so that can be difficult for legislative leaders.”
Climate advocates saw a second chance at passage of House Bill 5004 when it became clear in recent weeks that lawmakers would return by month’s end to pass a bill necessary to avoid a spike in motor vehicle assessments in several cities.
Lamont also wants passage of a portion of a banking bill that passed the House but  never got a vote in the Senate.
“We’d like to see if we can get that in — that was a bank charter change that would help us attract a really important company into this state,” Lamont said.
Ritter has told House members to reserve June 27 for a special session. Looney said some senators are unavailable on the 27th, so the Senate is likely to convene on the 26th.
As a nonprofit newsroom, we believe the healthiest way to sustain and grow CT Mirror is through the support of people who use and value it — loyal, curious readers like you.
Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.