Minutes of the October 18, 2017 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Ensign Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall (by telephone), Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:32 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there are any additions to the agenda. There was none. Brooks made a motion to approve the agenda as posted. The motion was seconded by Charamut and approved by all present.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the September 20, 2017 meeting. Vidich noted that the noun “award” was needed to describe the recognition that was earned by the state for its energy financing programs, and that “services” was mistakenly inserted where “surfaces” was intended; all agreed to the corrections. Brooks made a motion to approve the corrected minutes, which was seconded by Dunbar. The motion was approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow reported that the state still lacked a budget and there would be more discussion of this in the Executive Director’s report. She also expressed her continued appreciation of the people working to support the Council’s appropriation in the budget.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener provided the Council with an update on Governor Malloy’s latest budget proposal. He said that Council is fully funded in the most recent versions of the Republican, Democratic and governor’s budgets, but there still was no adopted budget.
Wagener said that the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) presented findings and policy implications regarding predicted sea level rise, which Hearn had attended. He asked Hearn to report on it. Hearn said that the meeting was occasioned by CIRCA’s modifications of sea level rise predictions made in 2012 by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He said that James O’Donnell, CIRCA’s executive director and former member of the Council on Environmental Quality, explained why Connecticut’s sea levels will be higher than the global average. Joseph MacDougald, Executive Director, and Bill Rath, legal fellow, of UConn Law School’s Center for Energy and Environmental Law discussed the implications of the predicted rise on zoning and other regulations for building setbacks and building elevations along the coast. They cited the Connecticut statutes that reference the NOAA predictions and recommended referencing CIRCA’s Connecticut-specific predictions instead. A short discussion followed on the science behind CIRCA’s model.
Discussion of Draft Report on Pesticide Enforcement and Oversight
Wagener said that the preliminary draft report which was sent to the members before the meeting was awaiting additional information on ambient pesticide sampling in the state. He said that the sampling data had been difficult to obtain, the units of measure had not been clear and there is some uncertainty if all the data had been obtained. Nevertheless, it is apparent that levels of some pesticides were detected in concentrations that pose a hazard to aquatic life, especially nonvascular plants. He said that the sampling program at the Pesticide Management Program (PMP) of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) ceased in 2014. Reiser said that the US Army Corps of Engineers routinely tests soils prior to its dredging operations and it might have data of value. Dunbar said the DEEP tests fish for pesticides and that data might be of value as well. There were questions about water utilities’ tests for pesticides, which staff was asked to look into.
Discussion commenced on the information in the report and on its presentation. With regard to the text section on the hazard posed by pesticides, Hilding said that recurrent or chronic exposures even to low levels might pose a risk to humans, especially children. Kolesinskas said that absent actual risk information the “acceptable” levels are a risk management estimation.
Brooks said that beginning the report with reference to the widespread use of pesticides by untrained homeowners is misdirecting the reader, if that is not the report’s focus. It undercuts subsequent information on the importance of training for professionals. Brooks and Kolesinskas said they presume that applications by homeowners far exceed those of the businesses licensed by the PMP. It was decided that the issue of domestic use should be distinct from that of commercial operators and should appear in a separate section of the report. Hilding and Charamut discussed a product stewardship program for pesticide products similar to that for paint products.
Wagener said that the impetus for the report had been a citizen complaint about decreasing inspections at the PMP and also from statistics obtained when writing the annual report that showed the PMP missed its enforcement targets by 50%.
Hilding said the correlation between staff size and output should be in the text, as should definition of terms. Brooks said the value of penalties recovered is dramatically below what was recovered when she was at the Attorney General’s office, and recommended a comparison to those past years.
Reiser recommended inclusion of the importance of material safety information and pesticide labels as guides for application and handling. Dunbar said the report needs to be more explicit about the exact nature of the problem and whether more efficient use of state resources can affect it, or if the source of pesticide contamination is beyond what is regulated by the state. Wagener said that in most cases the source of pesticide residues is unknowable. He said that the number of violations can be estimated by the known ratio of violations to inspections. He said it is very likely that more inspections would uncover more violations and better protect the public.
Vidich and Kolesinskas noted that the ultimate goal should not be just better compliance but actual reduction in pesticide use, through integrated pesticide management or other means. Chair Merrow summarized the points of agreement as being the need to reduce the pesticide burden to the environment and enhance DEEP’s capacity to deal with pesticide applications, with emphasis on the fact that the public is unaware that there has been a decrease in the state’s capacity in this regard.
Brooks suggested that examples of violations would illustrate the potential risks. A discussion followed on whether there is a need for testing of water supplies, including private wells.
Wagener provided revenue figures for the PMP; he said they were still being confirmed, but it appears that fees collected far exceed what the PMP is allocated. He said that the US Environmental Protection Agency says that inspections are the foundation of compliance with regard to pesticide use. Discussion followed. The need for efficiencies through electronic data submissions was also discussed. Dunbar said that this is a need across state government. Reiser said that progress has been made at DEEP in electronic data submission for the underground storage tank program and that the Industrial Stormwater General Permit is supposed to have electronic submission.
Education and training was discussed. A discussion followed on the potential role that inland wetlands agencies could play in monitoring the application of aquatic pesticides. Margaret Miner, Executive Director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, spoke from the audience. She said it was her observation that towns did not have clear direction on how they may regulate application of aquatic pesticides. This issue was discussed. Ms. Miner also suggested that the Council attempt to obtain fish and soil sample data on pesticides residues. She said the DEEP website could be a better source for educating the public, and that pesticide labels were often too small to be effective. She said that the US Army Corps of Engineers has made extensive use of aquatic pesticides, and that also is an area for further discussion.
Chair Merrow asked if Wagener could summarize the points of agreement thus far. Wagener said the introduction would be changed and the information about pesticide use by individuals will be separated from the issues associated with commercial applications. The need of improved education will be added, along with definitions of terms. There will be focus on the need for enhanced monitoring, including electronic submissions and on compliance. Recommendations will include recapturing some of the PMP’s penalties to accomplish the objectives above. He said he will send out a revised draft prior to the next meeting.
Discussion of the State Water Plan Final Draft Report
Wagener referred to the document that had been sent to members prior to the meeting, which summarized points to be made in comments on the State Water Plan Final Draft Report. Dunbar, Charamut and Kolesinskas discussed the importance of retaining stream monitoring stations – especially in area that are not affected by impoundments or diversions. Without those stations it will be impossible to establish a scientific baseline for natural stream flows.
Many were concerned with the use of the term “balance” throughout the Draft Water Plan. The concern was that it is not specific as to what weight will be given to competing demands on the state’s water, who will decide what is the appropriate balance and what factors will be weighed in making that determination. Dunbar pointed out that the determination will be different in different watersheds. With regard to a framework for decision making, Charamut showed the decision flow chart from the Draft Plan.
All agreed that the issue of registered diversions is important and needs to be addressed. There was consensus that these need to become subject to a permit process. Charamut recommended that the Council’s comments make that recommendation for inclusion in the next iteration of the Plan.
There was discussion of the language in the Draft Plan’s discussion of regional solutions. It was agreed that “beneficial” in the context of when regional solutions are appropriate needs to be defined.
The problems associated with unused registrations and with calculating surplus capacity as relates to interbasin transfers were discussed. Vidich pointed out that towns do not have a voice in the transfers. Charamut noted that other potential jurisdictional and regulatory complications exist because the water utilities are not all governed by the same regulations.
Another jurisdictional issue discussed was the difficulty of protecting waters in watersheds fractured by multiple zoning and land use authorities with inconsistent regulations. Vidich described the differences among towns. Kolesinskas recommended a model ordinance be advanced. Wagener summarized the points of agreement and said he would draft comments and urged members to get any further thought to him by November 3.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener reported that the Connecticut Siting Council had rejected the position of DEEP and the Department of Agriculture that Public Act 17-218 should apply to the Quinebaug Solar and Candlewood Solar proposals.
He informed the Council that DEEP is soliciting comment on a permit for permanent authorization for many tons of riprap it deposited to shore up the riverfront to stop the subsidence of its newly constructed boat house, for which emergency authorization had been granted by DEEP and the US Army Corps of Engineers. He recounted the complaints the Council had received over several years and the council’s past involvement. He said the precedent of a regrettable engineering decision that is mitigated by extensive damage to the environment warrant comments recommending mitigation, beyond what had been proposed for the emergency authorization it had received. The Council agreed and directed staff to draft comments for discussion at the November meeting.
In response to a question from Hilding, Wagener provided a brief update of the environmental study being conducted of New Britain water supply lands.
Hearn read comments left by Margaret Miner who had been in the audience but had to depart before the meeting ended. She urged that the maintaining of healthy rivers be given more weight than any other factors when defining balance in the State Water Plan. She also expressed concern that water utilities will still be able to redact documents under the recent changes to the Freedom of Information Law. She urged attention to the proposed acquisition of the Aquarion water utility by Eversource.
There being no additional business, Hilding offered a motion to adjourn, which was seconded by Vidich. Adjournment was at 12:19PM.