BOSTON — Opponents of a regional climate pact are pushing a question for next year’s ballot that would undermine the program, which they say will drive up fuel prices.
A proposed question filed Wednesday for review by the attorney general's office asks voters to choke off a source of funds for the cap-and-trade program, effectively blocking the state’s participation in the Transportation Climate Initiative.
The referendum calls for updating state law to declare that gas and other fuel supplies "will not be reduced or restricted by the imposition of any tax, fee, other revenue generating mechanism, or market based compliance mechanism."
Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said the pro-business group co-founded by billionaire Rick Green supports the effort because, the group believes, the climate pact will "force working families and middle-class Massachusetts to subsidize electric vehicles for the affluent."
"The people that will feel the pinch deserve a voice in this process," Craney said. "Consumers should be free to make their own decisions, and TCI should never restrict the amount of gasoline Massachusetts motorists can purchase. It’s bad economics and cruel."
Another proponent is former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Republican who led a successful ballot campaign in 2014 to repeal a law tying the state's gas tax to inflation. Diehl is seeking the GOP’s nomination for governor in 2022, which means he’ll challenge Gov. Charlie Baker should the two-term governor decide to run again.
Baker is a primary proponent of the TCI consortium and has tied the state's participation to efforts to reduce carbon emissions and alleviate traffic congestion.
The plan calls for cutting motor vehicle emissions by at least 26% within the next 11 years. It targets gasoline and diesel fuel consumption, which account for about 40% of regional emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change.
As part of the TCI pact, fuel suppliers who travel across state lines to make deliveries will be taxed on emissions above limits that have yet to be set. Suppliers are expected to pass on those costs to consumers.
States participating in the program will get a portion of the tax to use for transportation projects.
TCI’s proponents say the plan will cap increases in gas prices at 5 cents per gallon in the first year, but opponents say it's unclear what will happen next. Opponents say the deal ultimately will hurt consumers while doing little to reduce emissions.
TCI supporters have also pushed back on claims, now included in the proposed ballot question, that the pact will lead to fuel shortages. Supporters accuse opponents of intentionally misrepresenting federal energy data.
To be sure, the regional climate initiative is running low on momentum. A majority of the 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that were part of the original agreement have not committed to it.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, says his state won't join.
So far, only Massachusetts and two other states -- Rhode Island and Connecticut -- have signed a "memorandum of understanding" to join the program, though lawmakers in Connecticut and Rhode Island still must sign off.
The Baker administration says Massachusetts’ 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act gives the governor authority to ratify the agreement without the Legislature.
A group of Republican lawmakers filed an unsuccessful bill last year that would have forced a vote in the Legislature.
If the ballot question is certified, supporters still have numerous hurdles to clear, not least of which is gathering about 80,000 signatures of registered voters by Nov. 17.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com