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Updated: June 12, 2024 Politics & Policy

Sen. Needleman: ‘Green Monster’ tag helped sink climate change bill during legislative session

HBJ Photo | Skyler Frazer State Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich), state Sen. Norm Needleman (D-Essex), state Rep. Patrick Callahan (R-New Fairfield), and state Rep. Joe Gresko (D-Stratford) spoke on a legislative panel at CBIA's 2024 Energy & Environment Conference.

A group of legislators at an annual energy and environment conference said keeping energy affordable and reliable for Connecticut businesses should be paramount as the state shifts to renewable and clean alternatives.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association last week hosted its 2024 Energy & Environment Conference with a full agenda of experts and state officials giving their takes on everything from solar, wind and nuclear power to the state’s electric grid.

State Rep. Patrick Callahan (R-New Fairfield), Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich), Rep. Joe Gresko (D-Stratford) and Sen. Norm Needleman (D-Essex) spoke on a panel to recap the last legislative session and how Connecticut’s climate and energy goals have developed.

Much of the conversation revolved around what Needleman deemed a “three-legged stool” when it comes to energy — affordability, reliability and climate change mitigation.

“We have to keep that balance. We have to be thoughtful,” Needleman said.

And affordable energy is key to sustaining a healthy economic base in Connecticut, Fazio said. Connecticut is still trying to bolster its manufacturing base that has dwindled in recent decades, and energy prices are a way to attract companies to grow in the state.

“When you talk to those manufacturers and businesses, the high cost of electricity is a major sticking point about investing in Connecticut,” Fazio said. “And it might not be realistic to decrease electricity rates by 20% over the next decade, but at least we have to do everything possible to stop them from increasing 20 or 40 or 60% into the future.”

Fazio said there should be an “all-the-above” strategy when it comes to clean energy, including solar, wind and hydro power. Natural gas and nuclear energy are key to a reliable energy grid, he said, so those options shouldn’t be ignored either.

Gresko also said a diversified energy portfolio is the way to go. The state needs to incentivize growth in the energy sector to let the market know Connecticut is serious, he said.

But Callahan said he has concerns about the reliability of both wind and solar power, and the affordability of wind.

“I want reliable, not intermittent power,” Callahan said. 

HBJ Photo | Skyler Frazer
State Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich), state Sen. Norm Needleman (D-Essex), state Rep. Patrick Callahan (R-New Fairfield), and state Rep. Joe Gresko (D-Stratford) spoke on a legislative panel at CBIA's 2024 Energy & Environment Conference.

The ‘Green Monster’

House Bill 5004, a high-profile proposal that would have declared a climate crisis and implemented several climate change-related measures statewide, including a commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses over the next 25 years, died in the state Senate this session after being voted out of the House.

While Gov. Ned Lamont said the proposal will most likely not be included in a special session later this month, legislators said they expect the bill to be back next year.

“I don’t think it goes away,” Gresko said, while citing the fruitful conversations that happened while negotiating and debating the bill. “As much as I would like to see CBIA come out in favor of the bill, I think it was an accomplishment that you were kind of neutral on it, and you saw it as more of an incentive package rather than mandates that the state puts on energy-generating companies. … So, I still think there's room for this bill to make it through the legislature in some form.”

Callahan, the New Fairfield GOP House member, said he couldn’t vote for the bill last session because it would have led to higher electricity rates, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. 

But Needleman, the Democratic Senator from Essex, said he thinks House Bill 5004 was impacted by the “Green Monster” nickname given by opponents. He said he also expects some iteration of the bill to be back in the future.

“5004 probably suffered as much from just the title — the Green Monster it was not,” Needleman said. “I think it was just the calendar that ran against us as things got down to the wire.”

The Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank, called the original version of the bill a “Green Monster” that would have placed additional costs on state government and businesses.

The bill required state agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2001 levels by 2030, 75% from 2016 levels by 2040, and to achieve net-zero by 2050.

Statewide, the bill required greenhouse gas emissions levels 65% below 2001 levels by 2040. It also required the state to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.

Some of those provisions were removed from the bill late in the legislative session to broaden support for it. That still wasn’t enough to get the legislation passed.

Fazio, the Greenwich Senate Republican, said that any legislative proposal that could increase Connecticut’s energy costs will receive pushback, both from residents and members of the General Assembly.

“I think the Green Monster ending up as the Green Muppet is probably because the public understands how costly energy bills are in Connecticut already, and electricity is already, and that we are up against a future reliability problem on top of it all,” Fazio said.

Needleman said that the state’s long-term clean energy goals are ultimately about the health of Connecticut’s climate and people.

“I’m not a gung-ho advocate for phasing out fossil fuels tomorrow, but over the next 30, 40, 50 years, I hope we can all see that fossil fuels need to be phased out and we need to continue to innovate and continue to be creative,” Needleman said. “There are costs, but there are costs to not doing it.”

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