Minutes of the August 22, 2012 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the 5th floor of 79 Elm Street, Hartford.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Avery Yoshimine (Intern).
At 9:05 AM, Chair Wagner noted the presence of a quorum and called the meeting to order.
Chair Wagner asked for a motion to approve the July 25, 2012 minutes as drafted. Fernandez so motioned and Sherman seconded. The motion was approved, with Hilding abstaining because of her absence at the July meeting.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that he attended Plant Science Day on August 1 at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and gathered much current information on the state’s battles against invasive species. He anticipates that one or more guests will attend the September meeting to update the Council on this topic.
He also attended the public informational hearing for the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority’s (CRRA’s) Title V air permit renewal for its trash-to-energy plant in Hartford. The hearing had been requested by the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. He said the number of persons who were there and who reported that they and their families suffer from asthma was remarkable. Some reported being asthma-free until moving to Hartford and attributed their illness to the presence of the plant. He said the Coalition for Environmental Justice is seeking a reduction in the volume of trash burned at the plant and an increase in recycling.
Nancy Alderman, President of Environment and Human Health Inc.(EHHI) spoke from the audience to report that EHHI had done a study years ago of prevalence of asthma in school children. The results indicated a vast discrepancy among schools. Some schools in urban settings showed frequencies approaching 20% while schools in less polluted settings were as low as 6%.
Fernandez questioned whether recycling will reduce burning, unless the plant is now burning recyclables. If that is the case, it apparently violates the single stream recycling requirement of state law. Wagener said that even with the law there are locations where recycling efforts are substandard, especially in multifamily housing, according to several people who spoke at the hearing. He said that recycling will not by itself reduce combustion at the plant, as CRRA can bring in trash from more communities to make up the difference. Nancy Alderman pointed out the tension that exists between the need for fuel to run trash-to-energy plants and recycling programs intended to reduce trash volumes. Discussion followed on many aspects of the issue including the pollution from truck traffic shipping trash out of state, legal impediments to local restrictions on interstate trash shipping, the implication of the recent federal court rejection of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) attempt to reduce particle pollution from coal-powered electricity generation, the effect of trash-to-energy facilities on the goal of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to mine the trash stream for materials, and the potential role of trash to energy plants as contributors to asthma. There was also discussion of the need to review the adequacy of enforcement of recycling mandates.
Wagener said DEEP issued the Title V permit renewal for CRRA’s gas turbine “jets” electricity generation plant in the South Meadow section of Hartford. He issued the press release that explained the history of the plant, the Council’s involvement in the permit renewal and the changes that were included in the permit to reduce air pollution.
Wagener reported that the draft Conservation and Development Plan (C&D Plan) for the state had been released by the Office of Policy and Management for public comment. He said the draft introduces a category called “balanced growth areas,” which are areas where there is a combination of characteristics, some appropriate for conservation and others for growth. State agencies are supposed to scrutinize proposed projects in those areas carefully. He said that in examining some of these areas he found examples that were clearly inappropriate for development, such as a large floodplain along the Connecticut River. The conversation turned to the importance of public input and comment on the proposed C&D Plan. Hilding stressed that the availability of water resources should be an important consideration. Members asked that the C&D Plan be put on the September agenda.
Review of State Agency Actions
Siting Council consultation re: telecommunications towers in Roxbury and Willington – Wagener said that staff found no statewide policy issues or impact on state facilities in either case, and no comments were recommended.
Others – Wagener said that intern Avery Yoshimine had offered to continue to follow the actions of the Mass Accumulation Area (MAA) Siting Advisory Committee at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus while she is in attendance there next semester. Yoshimine reported on the activities of the Committee so far and what remained to be done. She said the Committee would not be able to complete its work until a revision of the master plan for the Tech Park is finished, probably in September. Only then will it be apparent what sites in the Tech Park are available for the MAA facility. She said she would attend the final meetings and report on the committee’s recommendations. Discussion among the Council turned to the relationships among the Tech Park Master Plan, the existing Campus Master Plan and the plans for a new Campus Master Plan. Wagener said he will contact UConn to ask about its analysis of whether the new plans require a new review pursuant to the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) or they are considered revisions of the existing plan that conform to the existing Environmental Impact Evaluation.
Fracking in Connecticut?
Nancy Alderman, President of Environment and Human Health, Inc. referred to the documents she had distributed prior to the meeting that related to shale resources in Connecticut and other states’ responses to hydraulic fracturing (fracking). She summarized each handout and answered many questions about the science, the risk and the law. She showed where Connecticut has shale deposits, though their gas-bearing capacity has not been assessed. She pointed out that the disposal and processing of fracking byproducts presents an environmental risk. Vermont has already acted to ban fracking and disposal of fracking wastes. Patricia Bresnahan, Associate Director of the Connecticut Institute on Water Resources, spoke from the audience as a private citizen and said that she agreed with many of Ms. Alderman’s points and added that additional damages from fracking include air pollution. She said that as a consequence of geologic folding, fracking may affect layers close to the aquifer above the shale layer. She suggested there is a need for a change in federal law so local communities can regulate fracking. Much discussion followed regarding the true economic cost of fracking, given its large water demands and the potential for pollution. Chair Wagner said this is an appropriate item to discuss at the next Council meeting when the Council considers its legislative agenda. She said it would be useful to know what permits, if any, would be required by existing state law to conduct fracking. Wagener said staff will research that question and report back.
Indicator of the Month: Piping Plovers
Wagener said that piping plovers’ success in Connecticut is largely dependent on the work of humans to protect the nesting areas. Their nesting habitat is the narrow strip between high tide and the vegetated sand dunes. In Connecticut, this is being squeezed by rising sea levels and storms. Despite the level of human conservation effort, he said that the plovers remain a good indicator of a particular littoral environment that other uncommon species also inhabit. He noted that a national tally of plover nests from 2005 through 2008 showed the Connecticut population to be the most productive on the east coast, averaging two to 2.5 chicks fledged per nest. He said that preliminary data from the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds showed that 2012 was another good year. After discussion of plover habits on Nantucket and related matters, the Council agreed to retain this as an indicator, with perhaps additional information on how their habitat is being squeezed by sea level rise. Chair Wagner suggested adding an indicator that will illustrate sea level rise. There also was discussion of how and why sea level is rising faster on the northeast Atlantic coast than everywhere else.
Proposed New Indicator: Asthma Trends – Progress Report
Wagener asked Yoshimine to provide an update to the Council. She reported on the asthma data examined to date. She said she had determined that the published data on hospitalizations will not provide the necessary specificity to compare to air quality data; the raw data will be needed. She has determined how that information can be obtained from the Department of Public Health (DPH), for which the Council will have to apply.
Hall said the hospital admission data is a measure of acuity. She said that asthma prevalence is more of a health concern and asked if that will be examined as well. Hearn said that acuity is being examined for a possible correlation with bad air days that cannot be determined from prevalence data. Much discussion followed regarding the many possible triggers of asthma and the studies of asthma in school children conducted by EHHI and by DPH. The relative importance of acuity and prevalence was discussed at length. Wagener said that staff would continue to work on this indicator.
The Council thanked Yoshimine for the excellent work she did on this project and on the other projects she researched for the Council.
Chair Wagner introduced Sharon Botelle of Tylerville. Ms. Botelle began by thanking the Council for its efforts to solve the contamination and drinking water problems in the Tylerville section of Haddam. She reported that dioxane is now known to be present in the ground water in Tylerville and consequently in her drinking water. DEEP has been testing for its presence. She said the state provides carbon filters on her water line. Because there is no way to know if a breakthrough of pollutants has occurred in the filter system, the state also provides bottled water for drinking. She expressed concern that the allowable level for dermal exposure was so much higher than for drinking water, and the latter had recently been tightened. Would it be safe, for example, to sit in a hot tub with their levels of dioxane? She also expressed concern that the submission of inadequate reports by consultants to DEEP is a delaying tactic to postpone remediation. She said that consultants should be selected by DEEP, not by the property owner since the latter establishes a relationship in which the consultant acts in the best interest of the employer, not of the environment or of the larger public. Hilding said that it was her experience that sanctions against professionals who misrepresent facts or analysis to the benefit of their clients are virtually nonexistent. Wagener said there is a supervisory body for licensed environmental professionals (LEPs); he said there are not many disciplinary actions. Hearn said that when he last looked there had been only one suspension of limited duration and no permanent suspensions.
Considerable discussion followed regarding the delays of remediation in Tylerville. Regarding the selection of LEPs, Wagener and members discussed the possibility of DEEP selecting the consultant in enforcement cases, in contrast to non-enforcement cases where the property owner should hire the LEP.
Wagener added that a draft report on an analysis of potential public water supplies for Tylerville is being prepared by DEEP.
Discussion led into the next agenda topic, the draft letter to Governor Dannel P. Malloy about Tylerville and remediation.
Discussion of draft letter re: Tylerville and remediation
Chair Wagner referred to the draft letter distributed by staff and asked if the letter should separate the specifics of the Tylerville situation from the general problem of the laws and administrative processes that allow remediation to be delayed for decades. Different opinions were offered on whether there should be more or less emphasis on the delays that have made Tylerville an illustrative example of the problems. Fernandez and Sherman said that it is important to identify what specific actions the Council is seeking.
Chair Wagner said that the remediation revisions that are expected from DEEP for consideration in the next legislative session won’t help the people of Tylerville and specific action by the state to assist Tylerville needs to be requested. In response to a motion by Fernandez it was agreed to authorize Chair Wagner to send a revised letter to the Governor that includes the general and Tylerville-specific points. Members agreed that copies should be sent to the Commissioners of DEEP and Public Health as a courtesy as they are mentioned in the letter.
There being no further business the meeting was adjourned at 12:10 PM.