Minutes of the February 26, 2020 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held in the Holcombe Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Keith Ainsworth, Alison Hilding, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Kip Kolesinskas, Charles Vidich, and Matthew Reiser
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), Graham Stevens (DEEP), and Matthew Pafford (OPM).
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:32 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting and noted that there was a quorum of Council members present.
2. Approval of Agenda
Chair Merrow began the meeting by requesting that a new item be added to the agenda. Chair Merrow noted that Graham Stevens from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) will be available to provide an overview of proposed changes to the Transfer Act. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda as revised; seconded by Ainsworth. The motion was approved unanimously.
3. Approval of Minutes of January 22, 2020
There were no suggested changes to the draft minutes. Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes of the January 22 meeting; seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved unanimously.
4. Chair’s Report
Chair Merrow noted that the Legislature is in session and that Council members can stay abreast of legislation by monitoring the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters’ website.
5. Citizen Comment Period
There were no comments by citizens.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn noted that he responded to an inquiry from Representative Michel regarding the status of the complaints in Stamford. Hearn relayed that Representative Michel suggested that he would support measures for stricter enforcement of environmental regulations including a “zero tolerance” policy for repeat offenders. Hearn also provided an update on the status of a complaint regarding the deposition of potentially contaminated soil in the Town of Fairfield.
7. Report on Staff Activities
a. Website Migration Update
Hearn reported that the Council’s website was upgraded and went “live” on February 10, 2020 and that staff has been very busy updating content, including:
- Reformatting numerous pages to correct alignment, spacing, and font issues;
- Updating broken links; and
- Updating the 2018 Annual Report to an interactive “e-book” layout.
Hearn also noted that the process for state agencies to develop notices for the Environmental Monitor had been resolved and a training webinar was conducted by Council staff to assist state agencies, which was held on February 6. Aresta noted that Council staff also worked with Connecticut Interactive and the Department of Administrative Services Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology's (DAS/BEST) to resolve how to develop and send out emails to subscribers and public officials regarding the Environmental Monitor and various Council notices.
b. Logo Approval
Hearn depicted a color and black and white image of the Council’s proposed logo that would be used on the website and communications media. There was general discussion regarding the logo. Hilding made a motion to adopt the proposed logo; seconded by Dunbar. The motion was approved unanimously.
Update on Transfer Act – Graham Stevens
Graham Stevens provided and overview of the existing Transfer Act and explained why DEEP was proposing to transition from the existing transfer-initiated system to a “release-based” system that DEEP believes will improve the economy and environment of the state. Stevens noted that the proposed “release-based” system would involve a three tiered system that would address:
- releases/discovered contamination that are minor and would require cleanup, but no auditing from DEEP;
- releases/discovered contamination that would be remediated at the direction of a licensed environmental professional (LEP) with no auditing by DEEP; and
- releases/discovered contamination that are significant and would be remediated at the direction of a LEP with auditing by DEEP.
Stevens also noted that the proposed “release-based” system similar to the regulatory model that has been adopted in Massachusetts. The proposed “release-based” system is proposed to be implemented on or after July 1, 2022 and that regulations would need to be revised and adopted to support the statutory changes to the Transfer Act. Vidich questioned whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is involved with the transfer of contaminated properties. Stevens noted that unless the contaminated site is a “superfund” site, the EPA is usually not involved. Dunbar noted that the existing Transfer Act is “triggered” when a contaminated property is proposed to be sold or transferred and asked if the proposed “release-based” system would have the same trigger. Stevens noted that the proposed process for remediation of contaminated sites would be initiated once a release or contamination was known rather than when it was sold or transferred. Stevens noted that the advantage to the proposed “release-based” system is that it would be a more streamlined process and it would not leave contaminated sites unused. Chair Merrow questioned the Council members whether the Council should submit testimony regarding revisions to the Transfer Act. Hilding made a motion to authorize Council staff to develop comments regarding the proposed revisions to the Transfer Act; seconded by Charamut. The motion was approved unanimously.
c. Update – Acceptance of Council’s Recommendation by SCCRWD
Hearn indicated that the recommendations provided to the Representative Policy Board for the South Central Connecticut Regional Water District (SCCRWD) were accepted and that the SCCRWD indicated that they would replace the existing septic system, fuel oil storage tank, and fuel supply line on the property that they propose to sell.
d. Comments Submitted: Vacancy at Siting Council, Draft Stormwater General Permit, PURA Docket 18-12-25
Hearn indicated that the Council’s letter regarding vacancies on the Siting Council was sent to the Governor. Hearn also noted that he had submitted comments regarding DEEP’s draft Stormwater General Permit on February 18. Hearn thanked Vidich for his suggestions, which were incorporated into the comments. Charamut noted that the Council’s comments were appropriate. Kolesinskas noted that provisions of the Stormwater General Permit have been inadequately applied by developers and that he believes that new provisions involving Conservation Districts will be more successful because of the increased local oversight.
e. Approval of Comments on Proposed Changes to NEPA Regulations
Hearn indicated that he developed draft comments regarding the proposed revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that could be sent to the Federal Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Hearn highlighted that the proposed changes to NEPA would result in inferior environmental analyses based on a flawed analytical structure that would adversely affect Connecticut’s economy and environment. Vidich commented that the proposed revisions to NEPA include changes to key terms such as “significant”, “effects”, and “cumulative impacts” that are important in assessing potential adverse impacts of a proposed project that is subject to NEPA. Vidich also noted that the proposed revisions to NEPA that include reducing the timeframe for decisions and page limits for studies may not expedite the NEPA process. Ainsworth noted that environmental case law is to some extend based on the current NEPA regulations and process and that significant revisions to NEPA may render the pertinent historic case law irrelevant. Hilding noted that the draft comments only focus on Connecticut and that they could be more direct and to the point. Hearn noted that by statute and practice, the Council has focused its efforts on Connecticut’s environment and that he welcomes suggestions for possible refinement of the draft NEPA comments. It was the consensus of the Council members to revise the draft NEPA comments and submit them to the Federal CEQ.
f. Intern’s Work – Update
Hearn provided the Council with an update on the Council’s intern’s efforts to collect and analyze data regarding sea level rise and the impact on coastal communities. Charamut suggested that it may be of value to assess the impacts on inland communities that may also be effected by sea level rise. Hearn agreed but noted that the data for inland communities may not be available.
g. Annual Report Update
Hearn provided an update on the proposed structure and content of the 2019 Annual Report, including:
- focusing on graphs rather than text to make it “readable”;
- including a “retrospective” on improvements achieved since the implementation of environmental protection laws;
- adding new indicators; and
- eliminating the traditional Air Quality Index since most air quality exceedances now are for ozone.
Dunbar asked about the Federal Environmental Justice Index. Hearn noted that it was developed by EPA and is a combination of air quality data and socio-economic data. He said it has not been used in the Council’s Annual Report because its focus was geographically specific and not State-wide. Hearn then discussed the Council’s testimony regarding Raised Bill 5103 that was submitted in support of strengthening the Environmental Justice Law.
Aresta reviewed the indicators that have improved or declined since last year and highlighted a few indicators that are pending updated data.
Hearn said that Council staff expects to have a draft 2019 Annual Report for the Council’s review prior to the next meeting. He said it will highlight environmental improvements.
8. State Agency Actions
a. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC):
Docket 487 – Aresta noted that this application was submitted for the construction and operation of a telecommunications tower located in New Canaan. Aresta noted that the proposed facility would be built to resemble a tall evergreen tree and no comments are recommended.
Petition 1394 – Aresta noted that this Petition is for a fuel cell facility and associated equipment at the Town of Montville Water Pollution Control Facility in Montville (Uncasville). He said that Council staff has reviewed the Petition and no comments are recommended.
Petition 1393 – Aresta noted that this Petition is for a fuel cell facility and associated equipment at Cherry Street Lofts in Bridgeport. Aresta noted that the noise analysis included in the Petition applied the incorrect noise standard for an industrial emitter to a residential receptor and that Hearn had developed comments on behalf of the Council for submission to the Siting Council. Charamut made a motion to submit the Council’s comments regarding Petition 1393 to the Siting Council; seconded by Dunbar. The motion was approved unanimously.
b. Inquiry from SHPO
Hearn noted that he received a call regarding the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) intent to demolition a building on the UConn Depot campus. Hearn noted that he provided information regarding the potential applicability of CEPA to employees at UConn. Hearn noted that he is unsure which building would be demolished, but noted that if the building is on the historic register, it would likely go through a Scoping that would provide that detail. He said the building can be razed if it poses an imminent danger to public health or safety.
9. Legislative Update
a. Comments Submitted on Blue Plan and on Raised Bill 5103
Hearn indicated that he provided a copy of Chair Merrow’s comments regarding the adoption of the Blue Plan to the General Assembly’s Environment Committee. Hearn reiterated that the Council submitted comments regarding Raised bill 5103, but did not provided comments regarding Raised Bill 99 - An Act Concerning the Use and Distribution of Polystyrene Products because the Council has never taken a formal position on single-use expanded polystyrene trays and containers in the waste stream.
b. Raised Bills of Interest
Hearn reviewed several raised bills that the Council is currently monitoring at the General Assembly, including Senate Bill 10 - An Act Concerning Certain Recommendations Regarding Climate Change and Senate Bill 11 - An Act Concerning the Reliability, Sustainability and Economic Vitality of the State's Waste Management System.
10. Other Business
Hearn mentioned that a resident provided information regarding a recent study on the “human physiological impact of global deoxygenation”. Hearn noted that the impacts of climate change can affect the Earth’s oxygen because of the acidification of the oceans and the impact on phytoplankton.
Hilding commented on possible discussions involving Vidich and National Public Radio (NPR) regarding the proposed NEPA revisions. Hilding also questioned whether water from Connecticut could be sold to entities out of state. Charamut and Ainsworth indicated that, consistent with the Commerce Clause, water companies were allowed to bottle and sell water anywhere they desired. Charamut added that the movement of public water supplies by pipeline to entities out of state may require approval.
Charamut noted that “World Water Day” will be recognized at the Legislative Office building (LOB) on March 23 between 9:00 and 11:00 AM.
Having no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Vidich made a motion to adjourn; seconded by Hilding. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:07 AM.