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NORTH ADAMS — Because of the region’s many rural roads, and long commutes, Berkshire County leaders are pushing for the inclusion of electric vehicle supports as governments move to cut emissions and bolster transportation access.

Massachusetts and eight other Northeastern states announced the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) in 2018. The program, which could start as early as 2022, would introduce a “cap-and-invest” system that sets a limit on carbon emissions from transportation. Emission allowances would be auctioned off to fuel providers, and states would invest funds from the auction — estimated to be up to $7 billion annually — toward clean transportation alternatives.

Electrification of public buses, expansions in mass transit and infrastructure upgrades for walkers and cyclists have often been cited as uses of TCI funds.

Yet the unique transportation needs of rural communities, some say, will require different kinds of investments.

“In reality a lot of our residents in some of the rural towns will still need to drive their own vehicle,” said Thomas Matuszko, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. “While mass transit is good, it’s not going to be a practical solution for our rural residents.”

That’s led to a call for incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles.

“Rural residents typically drive more miles to get to school and work and shopping and services,” said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. “To [use less fuel] out here, we really need an emphasis on electric vehicles.”

As a private form of transportation, however, electric vehicles are “not the most popular use of TCI funds,” said Ethan Evans, a campaign associate for Masspirg’s Transform Transportation team.

“In a lot of ways it makes more sense for funds from a public program to go to public goods,” Evans said.

Investing in rail, including “west-east” rail from Pittsfield to Boston, could also reduce road traffic in Western Massachusetts, Hinds said. He added that ensuring high-speed internet access could allow more people to work from home, serving to reduce emissions as well.

Western Massachusetts communities can experience disproportionate impacts from road closings, and extreme weather has affected roads in communities near the state’s northern border, Evans said.

“In parts of eastern Massachusetts, if a part of road goes out there, it’s no big deal because there’s probably a parallel road not too far away,” Chris Dempsey, director of the Transportation for Massachusetts coalition, said at a Tuesday discussion of TCI possibilities for rural communities. “When Route 2 goes out, it’s a severe disruption for residents and small businesses in those communities along Route 2.”

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At least 35 percent of TCI funds will also be required to be invested into environmental justice communities. Defined as those most impacted by environmental harms, those communities tend to be disproportionately low-income or home to people of color.

While TCI will continue to be molded before its implementation, including through stakeholder comment, many in Massachusetts have expressed approval of the overall strategy.

The emissions cap would reduce each year, working toward what climate advocates say is the top priority necessary to address climate change. “It’s not going to solve all our problems — we are going to need further action at the state level, including a commitment to end the use of fossil fuels in all sectors,” said Ben Hellerstein, executive director of Environment Massachusetts. “But there’s no question this is a big step for the state and the region.”

Hinds compared the multi-state and market strategy of TCI to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Massachusetts joined to reduce pollution from energy.

“We’ve put a lot of energy until now into reducing energy production in buildings, and we really need to do work in transportation,” Hinds said. “Having a market-based mechanism is how we finally, I think, move toward green technology.”

Around 40 percent of Massachusetts’ emissions come from transportation, Transportation for Massachusetts estimates.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has also expressed strong public support for TCI.

Expanding transportation access can improve the quality of life for Berkshire County residents. “In Berkshire County transportation is a major barrier to several things — employment, for sure,” said Jim Kolesar, a transportation advocate with Berkshire Interfaith Organizing. “It’s also a significant barrier to education and general social connection, and we know that these are social determinants of health.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

Statehouse Reporter

Danny Jin is the Eagle's Statehouse reporter. A graduate of Williams College, he previously interned at the Eagle and The Christian Science Monitor. Danny can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @djinreports.