Minutes of the February 6, 2009 special meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in Conference Room 6-A, 6th floor, 79 Elm Street, Hartford.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), M. Howard Beach, Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck (by speaker phone), Richard Sherman, Ryan Suerth, Norman VanCor, Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
The meeting was convened at 9:15 AM by Chair Wagner. A quorum was present.
Council members discussed the memo from staff and other documents that clarified the intent of the proposed Council consolidation with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
There was some discussion of the apparent rationale of eliminating state watchdog agencies or consolidating them with the “watched” agencies. When asked, Wagener said that he did not see the role of the Council to be a “watchdog” in the sense of criticizing the DEP whenever an error is made. Rather, since the creation of the DEP, the Council has been charged with reporting completely objectively on how much progress the state, and not just state government, is making toward its environmental goals, and overall on the condition of the state’s environment which goes well beyond the jurisdiction of the DEP. Several members agreed that the term “watchdog” does not perfectly fit the Council; oversight is one better term.
VanCor pointed out that the Council has been responsible for saving the state money in the past and for recommendations that led to important legislation.
Sherman said independent councils were appointed for a reason. By establishing them as separate from larger agencies the legislature guaranteed that appropriations would be focused on the intent for which they were authorized. He said that the new budget proposes that the Council be folded into an agency that is underfunded in the best of times. He is concerned that funds will be scarce within the DEP for activities that could, on occasion, be antagonistic to the DEP.
Chair Wagner said that these are extraordinary times and that there are a number of questions to be discussed in connection with this proposal to eliminate the Council’s staff and merge it with the DEP. Discussion on several of these questions followed: Will the Council be able to maintain its independent oversight role if it is merged with the DEP? Are there any savings if the work now done by Council staff is performed by DEP staff? How can an underfunded and understaffed DEP do the work now performed by the Council staff?
The Council agreed that the Chair should ask for more information on the proposal from the Office of Policy and Management.
Chair Wagner expressed her intention to speak before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on February 17 th and urged other Council members to accompany her. The Council directed staff to collect the information for the presentation, and to provide regular updates to the Council by email as new information is received in the office. The Council directed that the staff should continue with other business as usual.
Many of the Council members said they would be speaking with members of the General Assembly to gain more information about the proposal and would report back.
Suerth moved to adjourn and Winterbottom seconded. The meeting adjourned at 10:33AM.