Polls show Virginians support fuel emission cap-and-invest, but less than northern counterparts

Traffic moves across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge along the Capital Beltway during rush hour one day before the 4th of July holiday July 3, 2018, between Virginia and Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Most Virginians support a cap-and-invest strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, but support for the concept is lower and opposition higher in Virginia than in more northern states, polling released Wednesday found.

The poll, which was conducted by nonpartisan nonprofit think tank MassINC, found that 60 percent of Virginians surveyed supported the Transportation and Climate Initiative framework, while 29 percent opposed it and 11 percent were unsure of their feelings.

TCI proposes a regularly decreasing cap on transportation-related emissions, with fuel suppliers and distributors purchasing emissions allowances through an auction. Auction revenues would then be redistributed to participating states for investment in other emissions reduction or clean transportation efforts.

The program mirrors cap-and-trade frameworks established in California and on the East Coast to govern emissions from single sources like power stations and industrial facilities. Virginia, where transportation is responsible for 46 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, became the 12th state (plus Washington, D.C.) to join TCI in November 2018, although no formal commitment to participating in the planned market has been made. Republicans sought to block Virginia from joining the coalition during the last General Assembly, but Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed the measure.

As the latest comer to the group, Virginia showed the most ambivalence about the TCI framework in MassINC’s polling of attitudes among residents of the program’s seven-largest states, a subset including Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

New Yorkers showed the highest level of support for TCI, at 71 percent, with other states recording percentages in the mid- to upper 60s. They also had the least amount of opposition, at 19 percent.

Pennsylvanians’ attitudes most closely resembled Virginians’, although their support was somewhat higher (63%), and their opposition lower (27%).

Subsequent questions asked by MassINC found that among Virginians who supported the TCI framework, more than 75 percent believed that funds generated by the emissions allowance auction and sent back to the state ought to go toward improving public transit and protecting transportation infrastructure from climate change effects like sea level rise.

A report issued by MassINC cautioned that because “the public is largely unaware of the policy under development,” levels or support or opposition to TCI may shift over time.

“Two-thirds of voters had heard only a little or nothing at all about TCI when asked,” a report issued alongside the polling numbers stated. “As policy details are announced and publicized — including details on how much the program could raise and what impact it could have on prices at the pump — opinion could shift.”

The Secretary of Natural Resources Office did not respond to a request for comment about the poll results.