Minutes of the February 22, 2012 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in Conference Room 6A of 79 Elm Street, Hartford.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Eric Walsh (Intern).
At 9:06 AM Chair Barbara Wagner called the meeting to order, noting the presence of a quorum.
Chair Wagner asked if there were any additions or revisions to the minutes of the January 25, 2012 meeting. There being none, Chair Wagner called for a motion to approve, which was made by Fernandez, seconded by Brooks and approved unanimously.
Executive Director's Report
Wagener said that he had examined the proposed reduction in the Council’s budget and that he anticipated no impairment of the Council’s operations. He noted that the Connecticut Audubon Society had just released its “State of the Birds” report with the theme of “where will the next generation of conservationists come from?” Some members had read it, and key conclusions were discussed.
Discussion of Recommendations for Legislation
Wagener proceeded to discuss proposed legislation. He reported that the bill regarding outdoor wood-burning furnaces (OWFs) would be heard in the Environment Committee later that morning. He said he would be presenting testimony regarding the bill on behalf of the Council. His testimony would emphasize the following four points: 1) OWFs are uniquely unregulated, 2) OWFs place undue burden on the state and local governments, as illustrated by enforcement data, 3) the theoretical ability of OWFs to burn wood cleanly is not good enough, as it is apparent that many OWFS do not, and automobile regulation provides a good contrasting example, and 4) the statute contains presumably unintended flaws that need to be amended. It currently is structured so that all of the Connecticut’s restrictions on the siting and operation of OWFs will be eliminated once the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopts its own regulations. It also suggests that only non-grandfathered OWFs must burn clean wood and operate according to instructions; these provisions need to be fixed, he said. Members discussed the testimony, and concurred with the draft as written but wanted Wagener to emphasize in his testimony that the Council still recommends state emission standards and a moratorium on new units until such time as the standards can be adopted.
Wagener next raised the recommendation for modifying the language governing the state’s Open Space Plan, which DEEP calls the Green Plan. The plan was originally conceived as a plan for land conservation. In practice, it has not been a plan as much as it has been a description of DEEP land conservation programs. Members discussed several ideas for improving the plan, and how those could be added to the statute. Fernandez suggested that if the law is to be amended, then the lines of the existing statute that state specific annual preservation goals for past years could be removed since those goals are only of historical interest at this point. There was discussion of the utility of such goals.
The Council discussed the recommended changes to the statutes governing the training for inland wetland agencies. Considerable discussion followed about the current cost of the program and potential costs associated with the changes. Wagener said that additional vouchers could be paid for out of the wetlands penalty account when funds are available. He said that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities had expressed the view that the towns would not want a mandate for expanded training if the financial burden must be borne by them. Fernandez said that the cost of training is insignificant and could be covered by a small fee. Sherman said the number of persons in need of training divided by the number of applications would make a per-application fee inconsequential to an applicant. Sherman said he is concerned that the proposed change does not include a requirement for a wetlands agency to state on the record when it is not in compliance with the statutory requirements for training. Brooks and Chair Wagner agreed that the Council had previously expressed support for this information being made public and would like to see that requirement in the Council’s recommendations.
Review of State Agency Actions
DEEP’s proposed renewal of Title V air quality operating permit for the South Meadow Station in Hartford. – Wagener reviewed the Council’s action on this item to date, and referred to the memo that had been distributed prior to the meeting and to the January 30, 2012 letter from the USEPA to DEEP that addresses the discrepancy between state regulations and the older, federally-approved State Implementation Plan. Much discussion followed. It was the consensus of the Council that the changes proposed for the new permit could result in more air pollution than was permitted by the expired permit, because the latter was believed (incorrectly) by all parties to limit the hours of operation to 168 hours per year. The Council agreed unanimously that the Council should suggest some improvements for the permit and the facility, and asked Wagener to draft a letter to DEEP with specific suggestions; DEEP’s response would determine if it would be necessary to proceed with a hearing. Fernandez suggested, and other members concurred, that a switch in fuels would lead to less particulate pollution, and that the applicant could be requested to study the feasibility of switching fuels. Members also discussed the fact that state regulations allow facilities that burn dirtier fuel to emit more particulate pollution, which would not seem to encourage fuel switching. Brooks said that there should be a timetable for compliance with any conditions, and that the Commissioner of DEEP should be made aware of the issue since it is at the intersection of energy and environmental policy. Two members of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice spoke briefly from the audience, asked some questions, and asked to be kept informed of the Council’s actions on this matter. Chair Wagner said that the Council would gladly do so.
Other State Agency Actions – Wagener discussed briefly the data on Notices of Violation (NOVs) that had been prepared by intern Eric Walsh and distributed prior to the meeting. Members discussed several conclusions that could be drawn from the preliminary data, and Wagener said that staff would work particularly useful data into the annual report.
Wagener said there were no complaints that required Council action at this time.
Wagener left the meeting so that he could testify on behalf of the Council at the public hearing of the General Assembly’s Environment Committee concerning outdoor wood-burning furnaces.
Preliminary Review of Annual Report Data
Hearn presented the results for the 16 environmental indicators that have been completed. Of those, only three showed a decline in environmental quality. One is beach closings, which can be at least partially attributed to debris and hazardous water conditions associated with the hurricane. Sherman said information on the comparative percentages of the energy sources that supply Connecticut could be a useful measure of green energy and use of renewable sources as years pass. He asked if staff could research this.
There being no further business, Chair Wagner asked for a motion to adjourn. Sherman made a motion that was seconded by Brooks and the meeting was adjourned at 11:40 AM.