Minutes of the December 14, 2011 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Conference Room of 79 Elm Street, Hartford.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:01 AM Chair Barbara Wagner called the meeting to order, noting the presence of a quorum. She rearranged the agenda slightly to take up the following item first.
Discussion with Daniel C. Esty, Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection
Chair Wagner began by saying the Council was honored by the presence of the Daniel Esty, the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), who came to address the Council about environmental priorities for the department in the coming year.
Commissioner Esty began by thanking the members of the Council for their service as volunteers who donate their time in contribution to improving the state’s environment. He said that the Council provides a valuable role in benchmarking the condition of the state’s environmental health and alerting DEEP to areas the Council deems in need of more attention. Commissioner Esty outlined an ambitious program of efficiencies he envisions and described the challenges that will be faced in a time of scarce financial resources and the new responsibilities that come with the assumption of responsibility for the state’s energy policies.
He listed the transformation of how the state government conducts business as most important if past progress is to be retained and goals are to be met in a time of restricted resources. He said that some of the transformation has begun through the LEAN reviews that have been undertaken already and the governor wishes to see these efforts expanded in all agencies. Commissioner Esty describes this as “LEAN plus” and intends to expand it to look for efficiencies in how DEEP interacts with other agencies and with consultants and contractors. Making DEEP more effective will mean setting priorities and making decisions about what needs to be done and what doesn’t. Metrics-based decision making will be a key component in making these decisions. Options being examined include tiered permitting and prioritizing permits based on risk and scale of harm. He is engaged in the challenges associated with implementing last year’s energy bill including ways to improve efficiency, use of renewables, distribution and generation.
The Commissioner cited making productive use of the state’s brownfields as a priority that will be addressed partially by the report on the remediation programs that will be submitted in December and will be part of legislative proposals in the next month.
Commissioner Esty noted that the current rate of recycling in the state has stagnated at approximately 30 percent. He believes it can be improved by examining the many waste streams that exist within the state’s solid waste to find new markets for the materials. He envisions a future where the collection of valuable materials will cover the costs of processing the non-valuable materials.
Commissioner Esty said that in the foreseeable short term the scarcity of financial resources for land conservation and parks will necessitate finding new partnerships to assist in these areas. He welcomed input from the Council.
Hall observed that an article that Mr. Esty wrote for the New York University Law Review in 1999 pointed out the need for improved metrics for environmental management and inquired what role that would play in the new DEEP. Commissioner Esty said that information management and information technology (IT) will be crucial. Much money will be spent on rebuilding DEEP’s IT platform as part of the process of transformation to ramp up productivity.
Sherman expressed his concern that transformation will amount to deregulation. The Commissioner rejected that characterization, responding that the intent of transformation will be to give the greatest attention to the greatest problems. This will require prioritizing and making operations more efficient. He would like to see increased use of metrics to evaluate and publicize the performance of independent consultants, if more responsibilities are given to consultants for processes on the low end of the risk scale. Consultants that provide erroneous data or endorse conclusions not supported by their data will need to be sanctioned. He envisioned a referral to professional licensing boards with authority to suspend and then revoke a license after a prescribed number of documented transgressions.
Brooks raised the issue of regulation of outdoor wood burning furnaces (OWFs). Commissioner Esty said the Department of Health (DPH) acknowledges the potential health threat that these can create and that DEEP lacks regulatory authority to effectively address the risk. He did not see a ban or “buy backs” as probable. A mandatory replacement of poorly performing units, phased in over time, appears the most likely remedy at this time. He said that the Department of Agriculture also has a role.
Brooks next asked about “stewardship permits” for former landfills, which she said have no legal foundation and might eliminate the authority of the Commissioner of DEEP to control what is done at those sites. Commissioner Esty said he would look into the points she raised about these, since he was not familiar with the process she described.
Chair Wagner asked Commissioner Esty to comment on the Council’s proposal to address the diffusion of authority over the state’s drinking water by consolidating potable water programs into a single authority with responsibility for all drinking water programs. The Commissioner said that the issue is not as simple as it appears since on the federal level it is the Environmental Protection Agency that sets the national drinking water standards. Alignment of a new structure with the federal structure will need to be considered in any change.
VanCor observed that the public is generally uninformed and unconcerned with solid waste issues. He expressed a desire to see greater regionalization in waste disposal solutions. Commissioner described a future in which businesses will bid regionally to capture and reuse the material in the waste stream.
Hall inquired if the merging of energy and environment into one agency will create savings. The Commissioner pointed out that there had been no prior energy agency. The new agency brings many new responsibilities with few new resources. He said that with regard to waste to energy and use of brownfields as locations for renewable energy sources there will be some overlap between energy and environment. Sherman pointed out that the new model building code takes energy conservation into consideration and adoption of energy conservation measures in all public construction will advance energy efficiency in the state. Commissioner Esty said the role of building codes is being examined by Jessie Stratton of his staff.
In response to a question by Wagener, Commissioner Esty predicted that the remediation report will be finished within two weeks. He said to expect recommendations to focus attention on properties where there are significant problems regardless of whether or not the property is being transferred. The narrowly-defined categories of properties to receive attention will become less relevant.
The Commissioner thanked the Council for the invitation to appear and encouraged the Council to continue to provide suggestions and criticisms.
After the Commissioner left Sherman asked if the Council could look into the state’s adoption of the most recent model building code as it relates to energy. VanCor said the code does tie together energy and the environment. Martin Mador of the Sierra Club spoke from the audience saying that no one is looking at this as an environmental issue. He said that the building codes are adopted by the Department of Public Safety.
Chair Wagner said the staff should research what the current code is, when it was adopted and provide an overview of the issue for the next meeting.
Approval of November 16, 2011 minutes
Chair Wagner asked if there were any additions or revisions to the minutes of the November 16, 2011 meeting. Brooks made a motion to accept the minutes as presented, which was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously.
Executive Director's Report
Wagener noted that this meeting marked the beginning of the Council’s 41st year.
He said that he, Chair Wagner, Sherman and Hearn attended the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters’ Environmental Summit. He said it was worth noting that participants in the event included Catherine Smith and James P. Redeker, Commissioners of the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Transportation respectively.
He said that the state’s new stream flow regulations had been approved, and filed with the Secretary of the State earlier in the week, after much controversy and some compromise that excluded groundwater withdrawals.
Wagener mentioned that the Connecticut Mirror reported on two studies from the University of Connecticut. One looked at the economic value of state parks and forests; it estimated that they generate 1.2 billion dollars of economic activity and thousands of jobs are dependent on them. He said that he had not yet read the entire report, but that the report acknowledged it did not consider all conceivable positive impacts because some activities, like birding, were not included in the analysis. The other study compared the quality of life in Connecticut in relation to the other states, and found it to rank very high, but the ranking criteria considered few environmental factors.
He said that staff from DEEP’s forestry division made a very good presentation to the governor’s two-storm panel on tree cutting and tree pruning.
Wagener said that the Office of Policy and Management is working on revisions to the state’s Conservation and Development Policies Plan. Sherman said that if smart growth is to occur on any meaningful scale that the plan will need to have more effect. Wagener said that he learned that state tax credits will be tied to the Conservation and Development Policies Plan beginning in 2013, when the revision is adopted.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener said that the staff recommended no comments on either 1) the Harbor Brook Flood Control Project Environmental Impact Evaluation or the Siting Council’s solicitation of comments on the proposed siting of a telecommunications tower in Woodstock.
Wagener called the Council’s attention to a letter he had distributed prior to the meeting regarding the proposed renewal of the Title V Air Quality Operating Permit for the South Meadows power plant in Hartford. VanCor made a motion to add this item to the agenda that was seconded by Sherman and approved unanimously. The Council then considered a draft letter that had been prepared by Wagener. Wagener reminded the members that a 2010 Council analysis had determined that the jet-fueled turbines, when operating, emit the second highest particulate level of the state’s power plants. The letter recommended to DEEP to limit any renewal of the operating permit to a period of less than the usual five years, and only long enough to allow DEEP time to implement strategies to reduce the peak demand that necessitates the operation of this highly-polluting power plant. Fernandez explained how these turbines operate. Much discussion followed on the nature of the technology, the alternatives, and costs. Sherman suggested a deadline for creation of a DEEP strategy should be June 2013, because summer is the time when the plant is likely to be called into operation on during periods of poor air quality; members agreed. A motion to approve the letter as modified was made by Hall which was seconded by Brooks and approved unanimously.
Lisa Wadge of the Citizens for Clean Ground Water rose to speak from the audience about a complaint that had been delivered to a case manager in DEEP regarding an establishment, subject to the transfer act that her organization thought had been transferred in violation of the act. She recounted that 11 months had passed with nothing being done and a recent conversation with a supervisor did not leave her confident that the complaint would be a priority. In the intervening months since the initial complaint the building on the property had been demolished and carted away with no appropriate analysis of contamination. Consultation with an attorney led to the conclusion that the Council is the only legislatively authorized conduit for complaints regarding DEEP actions. Therefore, Ms. Wadge said, Citizens for Clean Ground Water would be submitting a formal letter about the lack of a complaint process to deal with the specific transfer act violation and any similar issues.
Chair Wagner said this item will be added to the agenda for the next meeting.
Discussion and Approval of Recommendations for Legislation
The Council reviewed the previously-distributed draft recommendations for legislation, which had been revised by staff subsequent to the November 16 public forum; changes were based on information received and discussed at that forum. The Council approved the recommendations under this category with the following modifications:
Farms, Forests and Fields: No-cost acquisitions should be the first item listed. It should be made clear that the preservation of farmland development rights is to preserve the agricultural economy, not to set land aside for other conservation purposes.
Inland Wetlands: Training is the Answer: The most relevant conclusions of the Council’s statistical analysis of the state’s wetlands agency training programs should be stated in the text.
Clean Rivers, a Sound Alive: It should be made clear that any use of Clean Water Funds to address the issue of nonpoint source pollution should not subtract from the funding levels already being spent on sewer projects. DEEP should be asked to provide an assessment of the cost of an effective program to address nonpoint source pollution.
Air Pollution from Outdoor Wood Furnaces: Modify the recommendation to require DEEP to adopt regulations to regulate emissions from OWFs, and prohibit the use of OWFs if DEEP fails to enact regulations in the specified time period. VanCor asked that his opposition to this item as a legislative recommendation be noted in the minutes.
Remediating Contaminated Properties and Providing Potable Water: There was agreement on the recommendation that the many remediation programs need to be overhauled and consolidated to affect faster remediation and development. There was much discussion on the recommendation to consolidate into one agency the programs that govern the provision of potable water to homeowners with contaminated wells. The draft recommendation was approved without change and without choosing the specific agency in which all potable water programs should be housed. The Council agreed to take up this last question at the January meeting, and directed staff to obtain answers to the questions raised. Brooks wished the minutes to reflect her opposition to the “consolidation into one agency” as a necessary component of improving efficiency.
Approval of 2012 Meeting Schedule
The schedule of Council meetings for 2012 was distributed by Chair Wagner who asked if any members had any suggestions for changes. The proposed schedule was approved by consensus.
Hall expressed concern that the proposed rules of practice for the Siting Council will adversely narrow the ability of parties to testify and lack clarity that will lead to confusion regarding what testimony will be allowed at a public hearing. She offered examples of how the new rules could lead to illogical restrictions on public testimony. Brooks agreed that this is an area of concern. Brooks also mentioned two items for the agenda January agenda; she would like to report on the Statewide Forest Conservation and Research Forum, and discuss matters relating to accountability of licensed professionals.
There being no further business the meeting was adjourned at 12:12 PM.