Minutes of the May 22, 2013 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
PRESENT: Lee E. Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Susan D. Merrow, James O’Donnell, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:05 AM, Sherman made a motion to nominate Merrow as chair for the day. This was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously. Acting Chair Merrow noted there was a quorum present and called the meeting to order.
Acting Chair Merrow asked if there were any changes or additions to the minutes of the April 24, 2013 meeting. There were none. Sherman made a motion to approve the minutes. It was seconded by Dunbar and passed without objection. Hilding arrived.
Acting Chair Merrow asked Wagener for the Executive Director’s Report.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener updated the Council on the budget and environmental legislation of interest to the Council.
Wagener said he received favorable feedback from the legislators who spoke to him about the Council’s annual report. The conclusions of the report were picked up on some blogs and in many newspapers. He referred the Council to the email from Commissioner Esty of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), who had suggested additional discussions on the metrics that were used.
Wagener said a regular reader had suggested that state projects should consider embedded energy costs when evaluating the impact of a capital project, and to fail to do so was contrary to the intent of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). Sherman described how is done in certain European countries. O’Donnell explained the difference between embedded costs and externalities, which sometimes are conflated. Members agreed that the concept of embedded energy should be taken up.
Wagener reported on a multi-agency meeting held by the Office of Policy and Management regarding recent changes to CEPA implementation. He said the new State Conservation and Development Policies Plan (C&D plan) is expected to be approved soon by the General Assembly, and it will not mesh with the current Environmental Classification Documents under CEPA. He said that DEEP reported that it is on the verge of releasing new CEPA regulations which, hopefully, will bring conformity with the 2002 statutory changes. He said he was asked by OPM staff to report on whether publishing “post-scoping” notices in the Environmental Monitor has been successful. He explained that this system was created by OPM to give agencies a way to avoid having to do an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) when an EIE is not warranted. He said that they have been used mostly for small projects. He has received no citizen complaints. Sherman said the public might not understand the importance of a scoping meeting, thinking that they will wait for the EIE to comment; if they fail to provide input at a scoping meeting, they increase the likelihood that there will not be an EIE. Wagener said the only complaint he has heard was a consequence of people not knowing about a scoping meeting. Dunbar said that public notice in newspapers is generally an inefficient method to alert the public to a project, and said that most people learn of projects other ways. O’Donnell asked about the potential for social media to inform the public. Hilding said notice on town web sites would be effective. Wagener said that he recently witnessed a scoping meeting attended by hundreds, largely as a result of notice on the town’s website. Sherman said he had concerns about how the scoping process is designed: often by the time people learn of a project, the deadline for comment has passed and projects that were deemed as requiring an EIE under the Environmental Classification Document (ECD) end up as a post scoping notice, with no EIE performed. Merrow suggested this as a topic for a future agenda. Wagener also said that he had received suggestions that projects be listed in the Monitor using a docket-management approach so that people could follow an individual project from beginning to end.
Wagener said that in many EIEs reviewed by Council staff the treatment of biological resources is inadequate. There appears to be a need for education of consultants on this. O’Donnell said there is most likely a best practices model for such analyses.
Wagener said he attended the Rivers Alliance watershed conference on statewide water planning, as did two Council members. He said that a statewide plan had never been completed despite a statutory requirement adopted in 1967. Dunbar said that what is missing is a path to reconcile supply and demand when there is no specific project being debated, so problems get resolved with ad hoc solutions.
Indicator of the Month
Wagener reviewed for the new members of the Council the history of the “indicator of the month” agenda item, saying it is a way to evaluate each indicator carefully and determine if changes are needed. He said the air pollution data for 2012 only became available in May and therefore the air pollution indicator was chosen for the May meeting. He explained the history of environmental indicators, which were popular among state governments in the 1990s. At that time the Council set a goal of having the best indicators in the U.S. Its indicators are aimed at a non-expert audience. Of all the indicators, the air pollution index is the most statistically complex. It combines the annual mean levels of five pollutants, as a percentage of the standard for that pollutant, and expresses the combined average as a single value to represent the overall level of pollution in the state’s air. That chart, when viewed in combination with the total number of good air days, provides a reasonable picture of the state’s air. There was considerable discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of averaging data. O’Donnell wondered how sensitive the indicator was to random events. Dunbar said the use of averages always screens out some data. This can be a weakness or a strength depending upon the intended use. He said the ideal metric is one that leads the reader to infer a cause of action from the chart in which it is displayed. These are what administrators use to determine direction or policy. Hall pointed out that the purpose of the Council’s metrics is to indicate results that others can use in policy considerations. In the case at hand, a detailed analysis of each component of the index, though more appropriate to scientific analysis, would be inappropriate for the intended use which is a quick look at overall trends. Considerable discussion followed on the various roles of metrics and how different metrics are appropriate for different purposes. Some suggestions were made for consideration in next year’s report, including the appropriate amount of historical data. Dunbar made some suggestions about chart design. Hall said she would like to have the air indicators appear on a future agenda prior to the next report.
Review of State Agency Actions
Connecticut State Police Firearms Training Facility Relocation – Wagener reported that this proposal brought out hundreds of people to the scoping meeting held in Glastonbury. Subsequently it was announced that the proposal had been withdrawn. Wagener said there are individuals who are discussing strategies to better protect state-owned lands from conversion to incompatible uses, and suggested that it might be time for a report to analyze methods to protect lands acquired by the state. O’Donnell said that it should be possible to draft a standard in state law that would provide guidance for those lands without being inflexible. Acting Chair Merrow said that this is a topic deserving of closer examination at a subsequent meeting, and members agreed that an update to the special report, Preserved But Not Protected, might be warranted.
Letter from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection re: regulations pertaining to hydraulic fracturing – Discussion of this item was postponed, as the members who requested that it be on the agenda were unable to attend. Hall said she wished to research the 2005 change in federal underground injection laws to assess how it might affect state regulations.
Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) consultation re: telecommunications tower in Bridgewater – Wagener said the staff recommended no comments on this proposal.
CSC consultation re: telecommunications tower in Canaan (Falls Village) – Wagener said the CSC had asked the applicant respond to the Council’s comments regarding forest fragmentation and wildlife. He said the applicant’s response was inadequate and that he was recommending supplemental comments, which were circulated as a draft before the meeting. Acting Chair Merrow noted that Ellery Sinclair and Susan Kelsey, representatives of the Canaan Inland Wetlands and Conservation Commission, had come to update the Council on developments in the case; she invited them to report on what has transpired since they appeared at the April 24, 2013 Council meeting. They reported that in a hearing before the CSC, their radio frequency engineer identified at least one alternative that would provide equal or better coverage. During the hearing, they said, they were criticized for not offering additional alternative sites, and were also told that the town wetlands regulations had no bearing on the siting of the tower. They said they presented their evidence of an alternative only to show lack of diligence on the part of the applicant; it was not their responsibility to find sites for the applicant. Wagener noted that the hearing process is extremely difficult for a citizen or municipality. They argued the new proposed location is worse for the forest on the mountain and does not constitute a change of conditions. They said the decision by the CSC to hear testimony on the question of whether there are changed conditions at the site simultaneously with testimony on the substantive issues of the appropriateness of the site affected the time the town and the public had to prepare their testimony and gather experts. Members expressed dismay that the hearings on these two questions were combined, noting there is expense and inconvenience for the town and citizens that have to respond to issues regarding the impacts of the proposal when that would not be necessary if the motion to reopen were not granted. Discussion ensued. The Hilding made a motion to have the Council send a response to the CSC reiterating the point about there being no apparent changed conditions and pointing out the inadequacies of the applicant’s responses, including the information about specific biological resources that Klemens had sent to Wagener and had been presented by the latter. Second by O’Donnell; approved unanimously. Wagner said he would revise the comments and circulate so that members could determine that he captured the motion properly.
Wagener said that there were no complaints in need of immediate action by the Council.
Wagener said the requested update on Tylerville could be postponed to the June meeting.
Wagener reported that Commissioner Esty was available to attend the June 24, 2013 Council meeting to discuss metrics. After some discussion, the consensus was to invite the Commissioner to discuss the metrics DEEP is using to drive policy and evaluate effectiveness.
There being no other business, Acting Chair Merrow asked for an adjournment motion. This was made by Hall and seconded by Dunbar. The meeting was adjourned at 11:38 AM.