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Vermont Governor's Remarks May Signal Further Erosion of Regional Climate Change Coalition

In a protest-interrupted State of the State address Thursday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott cast a shadow on the prospects of him signing his state up for a multi-state compact to reduce vehicle emissions.

Scott, who along with Gov. Charlie Baker is one of two Republican governors in New England, did not address the Transportation Climate Initiative by name, but discussed at length ways Vermont has been working to incentivize the purchase of electric vehicles.

"It's incentives, not penalties, which will help us transition more quickly," Scott said in his speech.

Vermont was one of the 12 original states to begin negotiations on a regional cap-and-trade program that would seek to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks and use revenue from the sale of carbon allowances to fuel suppliers to invest in clean transportation options.

New Hampshire has since withdrawn from those talks after the coalitions estimated that the proposals under consideration could add between 5 cents and 17 cents to the price of a gallon of gas.

Scott said many Vermonters have to travel long distances to get to work out of necessity, not choice.

"I simply cannot support proposals that will make things more expensive for them," the governor said.

The governor's speech was delivered at the capitol in Montpelier after a lengthy delay when climate protesters from Extinction Rebellion disrupted the start of his remarks.

Scott listened for well over five minutes as the protesters read off a call-and-response script demanding action on the climate crisis and more sustainable dairy farming practices, but eventually had to ask capitol police to remove them when they refused to quiet down.

"I'll try not to repeat anything you might have just heard," Scott joked, as he resumed his speech.

Massachusetts Energy Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said after New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu pulled out that TCI will require a "critical mass" of states to remain in the deal to be successful, but has not said how many states the coalition thinks it can lose before the initiative falls apart.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, also said this week that he has concerns with TCI.

"Raising the gas tax, which frankly is what many Republican states have done to pay for transportation, is 100 percent paid for by Connecticut residents and probably not the way to go," Lamont said in a WNPR radio interview on Tuesday when asked about the initiative.

Lamont's predecessor Dannel Malloy, another Democrat, initially signed up Connecticut to participate in TCI talks with other states. Lamont is currently engaged in a political struggle to push through a plan to raise tolls on trucks to generate new revenue to fund his transportatio agenda, and said he was "solely focused" on that effort at the moment.

"One step at a time," Lamont said.

Baker opposes raising the state gas tax but says a regional approach is the best way for states to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

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