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Governor Candidates Square Off On Environment, Climate Change

In his first debate of the campaign season, independent candidate Oz Griebel said Monday night that the state needs more collaboration among businesses, utilities and government “to put Connecticut at the pinnacle of energy efficiency’’ in the future.

“Energy cost is a big deal,’’ Griebel said. “It’s an impediment to job growth.’’

Griebel participated in a largely cordial, ideas-dominated debate at Trinity College that did not feature any explosive clashes with Democrats Ned Lamont and Joe Ganim and Libertarian Rod Hanscomb.

The candidates decried previous moves by the state legislature to remove money from the Energy Efficiency Fund and the Green Bank, where millions of dollars have been raided in order to balance the cash-strapped general fund.

“We’re not going to be looting these funds,’’ Lamont told the crowd of more than 200 people. “The state of Connecticut gives the money, takes it away, gives the money, takes it away.’’

All seven candidates in the gubernatorial primaries and others were invited, but five Republicans opted out in order to attend a separate forum sponsored by the Southington Republican Town Committee. Griebel was invited without having officially qualified for the ballot, but he expects to gather enough signatures to qualify by a deadline of Aug. 8.

The 90-minute debate, moderated by WNPR's John Dankosky, focused on the environment and climate change.

Trinity College professor Mark Silk announced at the start of the debate that a Gallup Poll in March showed that 69 percent of Republicans believe that the effects of climate change are exaggerated, compared to only 4 percent of Democrats who believe the impacts are exaggerated. He noted that the poll results might be the reason why none of the Republican candidates attended.

“Thank you for putting a spotlight on the environment,’’ Lamont said, adding that climate change is “one of the biggest issues of our generation.’’

Ganim also blasted Republican President Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris climate accord. He said he was also concerned with “environmental justice for inner-city youth with asthma.’’

He called for moving ahead with electric school buses on the municipal level and questioned the use of electric Tesla cars.

“I don’t know if Ned’s driving a Tesla in that commercial or not,’’ Ganim said, referring to the television campaign spot with Lamont talking as he drives. “I’m for electric cars. I’m not a Tesla fan. … I have a little struggle with the Tesla, if you don’t mind.’’

Lamont responded that he supports the direct sales of Tesla cars.

“We want to do everything we can to encourage electric-car ownership in the state,’’ Lamont said. “I try to convince people every day that a green economy is a strong economy. … Little Connecticut is going to have to take the lead with other states.’’

On tolls, Lamont said he believes he could impose them on tractor-trailer trucks if elected. Griebel said it can only be done as part of a comprehensive transportation strategy, adding that tolls could be erected on the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstates 84, 91, and 95 to see if “congestion pricing’’ would make sense to collect more money during rush hours.

Regarding rising sea levels, Ganim said some banks are reluctant to make loans along the waterfront if there are potential problems with water. Lamont said the governor and the state are responsible for working with local governments for moving critical computer and electric facilities away from the waterfront to avoid flooding.

As a former Seattle resident who recently spent time there, Hanscomb said that older residents told him that there is much less snow than when they were younger. Electricity costs, he said, are far lower in Seattle than in Connecticut.

“Climate change is real,’’ said Hanscomb, a Stamford resident who works in the heating and air-conditioning industry. “The prospects are scary what could happen 20, 30, 40 years from now.’’

Today, he said, about 45 percent of Connecticut homes still use heating oil, which is similar to diesel fuel. Natural gas, he said, burns 200 times cleaner than wood.

Sitting next to Ganim, Lamont said that former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch was “one of the great environmental mayors’’ and that Ganim was following up on some of the initiatives.

After candidates talked about capturing the heavy wind currents off places like Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, Griebel said, “There’s a lot of wind coming out of the Capitol.’’

Both Lamont and Ganim said it makes little sense to invest $6.6 billion for a natural gas pipeline that has been proposed to bring gas into Connecticut and New England.

Griebel unveiled his environmental strategy in advance of the debate, pushing for increasing renewable energy sources and cutting costs. Griebel said the raids on the energy funds were similar to Special Transportation Fund. The raids on energy funds, he said, backfired and would make it harder to reach Griebel’s ambitious goal of creating 200,000 net new, private-sector jobs in 10 years at a time when Connecticut has been struggling to create jobs for the past three decades.

Griebel, 68, needs 7,500 verified signatures to qualify for the ballot as an independent. He says he has gathered more than 10,000 signatures, but town and state officials have not yet certified the totals to place him on the ballot.


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