Minutes of the September 20, 2017 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks (by telephone), Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:35 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there are any additions to the agenda. There was none. Hall made a motion to approve the agenda as posted. The motion was seconded by Dunbar and approved by all present.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the August 23, 2017 meeting. Kolesinskas pointed out an incorrect word, “Service,” which should be corrected to “Survey.” Dunbar made a motion to approve the corrected minutes, which was seconded by Charamut. The motion was approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow reported that she had spoken at the Connecticut Community Foundation for an environment-themed program at the Bent of the River facility in Southbury. She discussed the state’s environmental trends and urged the attendees to read the Council’s annual report for its details and links to facts and interpretations of Connecticut’s environmental trends. She said Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection Rob Klee spoke, as did representatives of environmental organizations.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener provided the Council with an update on the state budget. He said that Council is fully funded in both the Republican and Democratic budgets, but there still was no budget. Until there is a budget the Council is funded under the Governor’s executive order by which all executive agencies are operating. He discussed differences between the Democratic and Republican appropriations.
In the version of the budget that was adopted by the General Assembly, the energy-related mission of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) would be removed from DEEP and transferred to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), which would be independent, and DEEP would be renamed. Wagener said the budget also contains mandatory 90-day limits for certain DEEP permit and license applications, with automatic approval if DEEP fails to act.
Wagener referred to an article in The Nature Conservancy (TNC) magazine about energy sprawl that had been distributed prior to the meeting. After considerable discussion, the Council agreed to send a letter to the editor to emphasize the need to differentiate among types of farmland and to point out that farming on prime soils uses less energy inputs than on other soils, and such productive lands should be avoided for energy development.
Wagener next showed two slides from the updated Wildlands and Woodlands report that had been released the day before. The update report included a map showing the forest density and the carbon sequestration potential of North American forests and the important role of New England forests compared to the rest of North America. The report emphasizes the important role of mature forests, which relates to the concerns heard by the Council from Susan Masino at a recent meeting.
Discussion of Draft 2017 Comprehensive Energy Strategy
Wagener said that DEEP had already received hundreds of comments on the Draft 2017 Comprehensive Energy Strategy; hundreds of the comments were in opposition to the recommended fee on heating oil, one of the smallest parts of the strategy. Many of the more substantive comments urged a higher goal for renewable sources. Wagener reviewed the Council’s draft comments, which had been sent to members prior to the meeting. Considerable discussion ensued. Vidich said that financial incentives for individuals to install thermal systems would go a long way towards reducing energy consumption and asked what, if any, were there. Diane Duva, Director of DEEP’s Office of Energy Demand, responded from the audience to say that there are low-interest financing and other incentives for those systems through the Green Bank and other programs, but not tax credits. Hall noted that it seems that traditional supply and demand price elasticity does not exist anymore in the energy markets. Wagener said that as demand increases the regional grid brings electricity online from progressively more expensive sources, so that a reduction in demand should reduce costs for everyone.
Kolesinskas said that the efficiencies that can be achieved through better land use planning should be emphasized in the report. On the topic of agriculture, Wagener added that the report should note the energy efficiencies in using prime farmland and growing food close to the point of consumption. Kolesinskas said managing food waste at the source is another energy reduction strategy that should be included. Chair Merrow asked if there is consensus on the comments and revisions. Vidich made a motion to submit the draft comments and to add the phrase “consensus-based” or the equivalent to the recommendation regarding best practices for siting and to include the points made in the discussion of agricultural policies. This was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously. Ms. Duva offered to appear before the Council anytime there were questions about energy policy. Chair Merrow thanked her, and noted Connecticut’s recent receipt of an innovation national award from the Harvard School of Government relating to energy financing.
Discussion of Draft Conservation and Development Policies Plan 2018 - 2023
Wagener said that an important improvement in the current draft is a requirement for agencies proposing a growth project in a Balanced Priority Funding Area must consult the state agency responsible for the resources that led to the area’s designation as “balanced.”
Using slides, he showed examples of how the use of census blocks leads to inappropriate designations. The presence of one urban characteristic such as a bus route within half a mile can push an agricultural area or floodplain into the “balanced” category. Vidich said that the development guidelines are based on the wrong parameters. Dunbar said the criteria could be flipped to first consider conservation attributes. Kolesinskas said the use of urban characteristics to define a larger area’s development priority is inadequate for Connecticut’s heterogeneous development, especially in the Connecticut River Valley which has significant natural resources in proximity to rail lines and highways. Wagener described the draft’s two options for Balanced Priority Funding Areas, and said that Option Two, which requires two urban characteristics for a block to be classified as a Balanced Priority Funding Area and therefore excludes a good deal of farmland and rural land when compared to Option One, is an improvement but suggested that it still leaves the door open to projects in inappropriate areas such as some floodplains and prime farmland.
At this point, Charamut noted that it was 10:35, and asked that this discussion be tabled to later in the meeting, noting the arrival of Betsey Wingfield, DEEP’s Water Protection and Land Reuse Bureau Chief, who had been slotted to make a presentation at 10:30. The Chair said this item was tabled until later in the meeting.
Discussion of the State Water Plan Final Draft Report
Ms. Wingfield introduced the DEEP staff members who had accompanied her and thanked the Council for the opportunity to present information about the plan. She distributed a summary of the draft and said a more comprehensive 23-page summary is on DEEP’s website, as is the entire 612-page report. She began by reviewing the history of the state water plan, which was driven, most recently, by the University of Connecticut’s water consumption. Using slides, she outlined the major policy issues that were addressed in the plan. She said that because of Connecticut’s historic concern for water quality, it is the only state that doesn’t drink Class B water. She described the large impact of registered (grandfathered) diversions. She noted that a registered diversion could legally dry up a stream. While per capita use has been going down in the state, peak demand is going up because of lawn irrigation and needs to be addressed. She showed the watersheds and their forty-four sub-basins in the state. Using one as an example she illustrated how in periods of low flow its waters are over-allocated.
She discussed potential long term remedies to shortages, including conservation, transfers within and between basins, elimination of obsolete registered diversions, using non-potable water for industrial and other non-potable needs. Discussion turned to private wells, which supply about one third of the state’s drinking water and, in general, are not tested for pollutants or naturally-occurring toxins such as manganese, uranium and arsenic.
Kolesinskas said that promotion of green infrastructure should be part of the plan. Vidich said that no more than 20 percent of towns had impervious-cover restrictions, based on his comprehensive inventory of municipal regulations, and that this was especially important in proximity to streams and waterbodies. Bureau Chief Wingfield said both of their comments were excellent and they should get them on the record. Dunbar said that stream-flow measuring sites are few in Connecticut and need to be retained as a measure of a natural system dynamics. She said that comment should be submitted as well.
Chair Merrow thanked Bureau Chief Wingfield for her excellent and clear explanation of a complicated topic. Wingfield thanked the Council for the invitation. Merrow said the comments are not due until after the October Council meeting and asked the Council to send their comments to Wagener for inclusion in the Council’s next draft, which will be reviewed and discussed at the next meeting.
Discussion of Draft Conservation and Development Policies Plan (cont.)
Discussion of the C&D Plan was untabled. Vidich said he had reviewed the draft plan and prepared some comments, which he had sent to Wagener shortly before the meeting. He emphasized two substantive points: the effects of climate change, such as an increase in extreme rainfall events, are not solely a consideration for coastal portions of the state but are a statewide concern, and the plan should specifically recognize the harm caused by impervious surfaces near streams and rivers and should recommend appropriate strategies. It was the consensus that those points should be added. Wagener said would add them to the comments and that Vidich’s other comments about the language of the draft and implementation were consistent with the draft comments and also would be incorporated.
Dunbar asked a question about the degree to which municipalities were bound by the state’s C&D Plan. Wagener said that Matthew Pafford of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) was in the audience and could best answer that question. He said that the C&D Plan is advisory to municipalities. State aid for a project which is not in compliance with the plan must go through an exemption process. When a municipality revises its own plan, it must explain any deviations from the plan, but there is no legal requirement for consistency and OPM does not approve municipal plans. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Pafford for his good explanations.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener said that staff had reviewed the Environmental Impact Evaluation for the construction of sewerage infrastructure in Ridgefield and recommended no comments.
He gave an update on the solar facility proceedings at the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC). He discussed recent motions submitted by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and DEEP that argue that Public Act 17-218 should affect the current petitions. Wagener mentioned that Representative Hampton, in his comments to the CSC, cited the Council’s special report on energy sprawl.
Wagener said he had received a communication from a landowner who has had land enrolled in the PA-490 classification. Because crops are not currently being grown, the town is reclassifying the property and thereby increasing the property taxes greatly. The landowner has appealed the town’s actions and has suggested that the Council, while it cannot do anything for his specific case, should look into the public policy behind reclassification and its potential impacts to land conservation. The Council agreed that this is a question worthy of further exploration.
He said that he had received additional information from Susan Masino, who had spoken to the Council about preserving old growth forests, and is looking further in to the matter.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. It was offered by Hall and seconded by Dunbar. The meeting adjourned at 11:59 AM.