Minutes of the December 13, 2017 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Charles Vidich (by phone), Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:37 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there were any changes to the agenda. There was none. Brooks made a motion to approve the agenda as posted. The motion was seconded by Hilding and approved by all present.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the November 15, 2017 meeting. Wagener noted that Chair Merrow had offered some grammatical corrections before the meeting, but none affected the substance of the text. Brooks moved to approve the corrected minutes; Vidich seconded and all approved.
Chair Merrow remarked on the prodigious work load of the past few weeks, noting completion of the comments on the state water plan and the special report on pesticide use and compliance, among other projects, and credited the members and staff for getting so much done.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported on Governor Malloy’s recent adjustment to the budgets of state agencies that affected the Council’ budget by a small amount. He said the legislature could convene to make additional adjustments to the budget.
He said the Council’s pesticide enforcement report had been published and distributed; an article about it appeared in Tuesday’s online edition of the Hartford Courant. Wagener noted that he had heard from some organizations that had found the report to be of interest, including the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment and the Rivers’ Alliance. He said he had a radio interview scheduled for later in the week.
He asked Hearn to summarize what he had learned in researching Mr. Paskewitz’s question from the November meeting about a restriction in California of the herbicide active ingredient glyphosate. Hearn said that it was not banned, but was added to a list of products that are mandated to warn that they pose a risk of cancer or birth defects. The warning was based on a World Health Organization advisory. He said Monsanto, the manufacturer, is suing over the decision on the basis that there is scant evidence to support California’s decision.
Wagener said he had received a copy of Environment and Human Health, Inc.’s recent report on synthetic turf, which he passed around. He noted that the latest edition of The Habitat has an article on the Council’s annual report.
He said that it seems to be a busy reporting season, noting the following: a recent report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) on the effect of efficiency in lowering electric rates in the ISO New England region; a report on Connecticut’s mattress stewardship program that found the program is processing 14,000 mattresses per month; and an upcoming webinar on stewardship for photovoltaic panels, which he said is being adopted or discussed in other states. He said there have been hearings regarding the future of Hartford’s trash-to-energy plant. DEEP’s “request for proposals” for the plant has resulted in three finalists who have submitted very different proposals. Whatever is chosen, officials are speculating that it could be a model for the other trash-to-energy facilities in the state.
Wagener said that he had received several inquiries about the focus of Part Two of the enforcement series, now that Part One, the pesticide report, had been published. Chair Merrow asked if there would be cause to publish an addendum to the pesticide report itself. Nancy Alderman, of Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI), suggested from the audience that the report could be updated with a “What’s New” headline, and under that the topic of automatic pesticide misters could be addressed. Dunbar noted that while there are many wide-ranging programs within DEEP, such as air quality, there are also discrete, single-focus programs such as dam safety that should be looked at.
Regulatory Status of Mosquito Misting Systems
Chair Merrow introduced Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health Inc. who had come to discuss pesticide misters. Ms. Alderman said that this new technology sprays pesticide mists on lawns and elsewhere at programed intervals. Because no one has to be present when it sprays, there are no safeguards to prevent children or pets from being in proximity when the spray is released. Wagener questioned what would happen if the wind started to blow, negating guidelines on the pesticide label regarding spraying in windy conditions. Ms. Alderman distributed a handout about the products. She said this is designed to control mosquitos and ticks, and in combination with products sprayed on laws and trees, presents a risk of pesticide combinations of unknown risk. Ms. Alderman noted that there used to be two types of spraying on residential properties, lawns (for weeds) and trees; now there are four, with the addition of spraying for mosquitoes and ticks. She said that because the misting technology is an application method, not a pesticide, it is unregulated by the USEPA. She said that regulation by DEEP’s Pesticide Management Program, already understaffed, will be near to impossible. She asked the Council to support a ban on these devices before they become popular and acquire a constituency. Hilding suggested that Ms. Alderman also contact the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, given the potential risk the misters might pose to youth. Chair Merrow thanked Ms. Alderman for bringing this information to the Council.
Discussion of Potential Legislation
Wagener remarked that the Council had recommended in its pesticide report that a portion of the revenues captured by DEEP’s Pesticide Management Program be dedicated to the work of that program; that clearly was the priority recommendation of the report, as the other recommendations would need those funds in order to be implemented. Members concurred.
There was discussion of the constitutional amendment to change how state land transfers are handled. Members discussed the process, noting that the same language would need pass this session, or the effort would have to start anew. Wagener said that new language could be successful in one year if it obtained a three-quarters majority in each chamber, and there are some people suggesting that route. Chair Merrow asked Wagener to inform the Council if tweaks to the bill’s language are proposed. Members also discussed the idea of participating or helping to organize an information session to help legislators understand the legal aspects of the bill, which members said could be a good idea. The members directed staff to confer with other parties interested in the amendment.
Wagener next discussed developments with regard to the 2017 law that changed the Connecticut Siting Council’s (CSC) regulation of solar electricity generating facilities. He said there has been discussion about modifying the law. Members asked Wagener to obtain more information.
Dunbar said that the Council should be prepared to offer information about existing environmental programs, as rolling back some existing environmental protections seems to be a priority for some. Members agreed.
Review of State Agency Actions
Enforcement actions at solar photovoltaic facilities – Wagener summarized the status of photovoltaic (PV) projects of 5 MW (or greater) capacity. He said that two are up and running; of those, one had major erosion problems. Of the two that are under construction, one, in Sprague, reportedly had major erosion problems. He said the alleged failure of the developer to comply with the provisions of DEEP’s General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters from Construction Activities (Construction General Permit) resulted in DEEP Issuing a Notice of Violation (NOV) and, in November, a cease and desist order. Wagener recalled that the Council, in its 2015 draft report on stormwater problems at construction sites and surface mines, had called attention to the possibility that solar facilities will be pose a unique erosion problem. One recommendation of the draft report was that DEEP create a separate general permit for those projects. He said that in September, DEEP published guidance for stormwater management at solar construction projects; he said the guidance recounted the most common problems encountered in review and construction oversight. Wagener said the CSC recently denied, without prejudice, a petition for a large solar project due to deficiencies in the plans for grading, erosion and stormwater control. Using another slide, Wagener showed how the wording of DEEP’s Construction General Permit, specifically the requirement to avoid disturbing more than five acres at one time, was being misconstrued repeatedly in documents to be a guideline that called for installing erosion controls over five acres at a time. Hilding made a motion to send a letter commending the CSC for its close attention and strong stance on enforcing stormwater management plans, and also to call attention to the wording in the Construction General Permit. It was seconded by Charamut and approved by all.
Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan – Wagener said he had participated on the advisory committee that reviewed the plan; he encouraged members to review the plan, which he said contained much interesting data, and did not recommend that the Council submit any specific comments.
CSC Solicitation of Comments – Wagener said that the CSC had solicited comments on a proposal for a cell tower in an industrial area in Bridgeport, and he did not recommend submitting comments.
Discussion of Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) procedures when a sponsoring agency decides not to pursue a proposed project – Wagener said that in a case where an agency decides not to move forward with a project, the CEPA process lacks a mechanism to document or notify the public of that decision; the public could remain unaware of its changed status. Dunbar and Brooks said that a non-decision can serve the purpose of not killing it, in case it needs to be resurrected at a later date.
Matthew Pafford of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) spoke from the audience to say that OPM has been discussing the same topic and has not arrived at a conclusion regarding how it should be handled. He said that regulations require that a “record of decision” (ROD) respond to all the comments submitted and there is little point in responding to every comment when the decision to not proceed was not based on environmental reasons. Fred Reese of DEEP said that some aspects of this matter are expected to be addressed in DEEP’s new CEPA regulations which are expected in draft form soon. The public will have the opportunity to comment on them when they are released. He said that a change being contemplated is a shelf life for environmental reviews so after seven years a review would need to be “refreshed.”
There was general agreement that notice of a project’s cancellation would be a good policy change, and that perhaps an agency should not have to publish and respond to every comment submitted regarding a project that is not moving forward. It was decided that a letter to DEEP stating such, with a copy to OPM, should be drafted. Dunbar made a motion to that effect. Charamut seconded it. Vidich said another point to be added is a limit on the time between the completion of the environmental impact evaluation (EIE) and issuance of the ROD. Wagener said he will send a draft of such a letter to all, with final approval of the language to be by the Chair. All voted in favor.
New requirements regarding pesticide spraying on railroads – Members discussed a draft letter to Commissioner of Transportation James Redeker had been distributed to the Council prior to the meeting; the letter urged the DOT to post on its website all notices it received regarding pesticide spraying, which pursuant to a new law the railroad companies must submit to DOT. The motion to approve and send the letter was made by Charamut, seconded by Hilding and approved by all.
Citizen Complaints and Comments; Other Business
Wagener said that staff had been busy with complaints. He mentioned that a complaint about animal waste in storm drains had been investigated and it was determined that the waste was not being disposed of illegally because it did not go to a public storm sewer or a waterway, but to a private dry well.
Discussion turned to the topic of how the public can learn of all the many environmental actions being proposed across the state. Chair Merrow said that, for individual citizens, it has been her experience that the best way is to affiliate with advocacy groups for the issues you care about and in most cases that will keep you informed. Members concurred, however, that there could be a more consistent, uniform approach to public notices within government, and the matter was put on the Councils list of projects to consider.
Hilding motioned to approve the meeting schedule for 2018, which had been distributed prior to the meeting. Charamut seconded it and it was approved by all except Brooks who had to leave just prior to the vote.
At 11:53 AM Chair Merrow asked for a meeting to adjourn which was made by Dunbar and seconded by Hilding and approved by all.