Minutes of the February 24, 2021 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held in compliance with Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7B.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Keith Ainsworth (Acting Chair), Kip Kolesinskas, Alison Hilding, Alicea Charamut, David Kalafa, Charles Vidich and Lee Dunbar.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), Matt Pafford (Office of Policy and Management (OPM)) and Lou Rosado Burch of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
1. Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Ainsworth called the meeting to order. Ainsworth confirmed which Council members were present and noted that there was a quorum.
2. Approval of Agenda
Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the agenda. Vidich made the motion to approve the agenda; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of January 27, 2021
Ainsworth asked if there were any changes to the draft minutes of January 27, 2021. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the draft minutes. Charamut made a motion to approve the draft minutes of January 27; seconded by Dunbar. The motion passed with Vidich and Hilding abstaining, having been absent at the January meeting.
4. Citizen Comment Period
Ainsworth asked if there were any members of the public that wished to speak at this time. Lou Rosado Burch of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment spoke about new developments regarding Connecticut’s beverage container redemption program (“Bottle Bill”). Mr. Burch noted a memo that was provided by his organization to the Connecticut General Assembly’s (CGA) Environment Committee with suggested revisions to Connecticut’s “Bottle Bill”, including increasing the deposit fee, increasing the handling fee, and expanding the list of beverage containers that would be subject to a deposit. Mr. Burch noted Connecticut’s low redemption rate, the lack of accessibility for some people to redeem deposit beverage containers, and the increasing amount of glass that is not recycled. Mr. Burch described efforts in the past to modernize the “Bottle Bill” and added that he believed the “Bottle Bill” will be revised in this legislative session. Mr. Burch also noted the “stewardship” approach that has been employed to manage beverage container redemption in other states. Mr. Burch said that there is a perception that the bottle deposit is a regressive tax that unfairly penalizes low income residents. He rejected that argument and noted that, with increased access to redemption facilities, an increase in the beverage container deposit could be of high value to low income communities. Dunbar questioned whether an increase to ten cents per container would be sufficient to increase the redemption rate. Dunbar said that focusing on consumer convenience could be more effective. Charamut made a motion to support the suggested improvements to the “Bottle Bill”, as detailed in a memo from Citizens Campaign for the Environment; seconded by Kolesinskas. Vidich noted that he was unable to review the memo since it was only provided to Council members during the meeting. Dunbar agreed and suggested an amendment to the motion that would allow Council staff to review the memo and draft comments articulating the Council’s position on the modernization to the “Bottle Bill”. The proposed amendment to the motion was moved by Dunbar; seconded by Vidich and accepted unanimously. The Council then voted on the amended motion, which was passed unanimously.
There were no other citizen comments.
5. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a few complaints and inquiries including:
- An inquiry from a representative from Lowes Home Centers regarding the plastic bag fee. Hearn indicated that he provided information regarding the reinstatement of the plastic bag deposit fee program following the brief cessation of the program in response to the Covid virus;
- An inquiry from a representative of an environmental group regarding the Council’s status since it did not appear in the Governor’s budget. Hearn noted that the Council’s budget remains essentially the same and the funds are allocated from the Passport to the Parks program; and
- A new inquiry about a quarry in Monroe. Hearn indicated that the inquiry was just received yesterday and he has not had the time to investigate the matter.
6. Executive Director’s Report
Update on Meetings
- DEEP Water Quality Monitoring Methodology
Hearn reported that he and Aresta met with the supervisor of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) water quality monitoring programs and was informed that the waterbodies selected for monitoring are both those that have known water quality issues and those that are representative of similar types of waterbodies.
- DEEP Wetlands
Hearn reported that he and Aresta met with the only remaining member of DEEP’s Inland Wetlands Management Section to discuss including an indicator on wetland impacts in this year’s Annual Report. He added that the Council stopped reporting on the status of wetlands in the Annual Report because the availability of data was several years behind, the data was not complete, and there were errors with the data that was reported by municipalities. Hearn also mentioned that the wetland training, which is required by statute for at least one member of a municipal inland wetland agency or staff, has been suspended due to software issues. Hearn added that the online training is expected to resume soon and the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) will host the training materials online for inland wetlands, aquifer protection and hazardous waste for at least the next three years.
- Working Group for Release Based Remediation Tiers Subcommittee (Subcommittee) update
Hearn reported that the Subcommittee has met three times and that the most recent meetings included guest speakers from other states that provided information on the remediation programs in their respective states.
- DEEP Budget
Hearn reported that the Governor’s budget for DEEP includes reductions in staff and resources in environmental conservation and environmental quality. He added that it also appears that there may be an increase in the number of positions that are funded by the Office of Consumer Counsel and Public Utility Regulatory Authority. He noted that there are also a number of retirements anticipated at DEEP over the next few years.
7. Staff Activities
Progress on the Annual Report
Hearn noted the Council’s staff continues to update the 2020 Annual Report. Aresta reviewed the charts and graphs for several indicators including fish, transportation, eagles, bats, drinking water, energy efficiency, and compliance/enforcement.
- Dunbar noted that the goal for eagles appears to have been greatly surpassed and may not be needed on the graph. Hearn said that the goal is presented to provide evidence of how successful environmental regulation can be and that there is more content regarding the source of the goal for eagles in the text of the Annual Report.
- Hilding questioned if there is an opportunity to highlight drinking water quantity and quality in the Annual Report since people are aware and concerned about the recent drinking water issues in Texas.
- There was general discussion regarding the impact that Covid 19 and climate change has had on several indicators in the Annual Report. Hearn indicated that the Council uses a symbol in the Annual Report to highlight which indicators are affected by climate change.
Environmental Classification Document (ECD) Revisions
Hearn reported that Council staff continues to work with the OPM and DEEP to revise the Generic ECD. He reviewed the following key changes in the draft document:
- A revised definition of “developed land” and a new definition for “access to existing sewer and water infrastructure”
- Refinement of the thresholds for new construction or additions for facilities:
- 15,000 square feet (ft2) or 15 residential units on undeveloped land without access to water/sewer
- 40,000 ft2 or 40 residential units on undeveloped land with access to water/sewer
- 100,000 ft2 or 100 residential units on developed land with access to water/sewer
- Any major reconstruction, rehabilitation, or improvement that would significantly change the use of an existing facility 100,000 ft2 or 100 residential units (an increase from 25,000 and 25 units)
- Added “Development of an energy generation facility that exceeds 100 kW on undeveloped land, or an energy generation facility located on or in water”.
- Added “Construction or installation of an emergency generator” to Part IV.
Vidich questioned the need for the 100 kW capacity cap for an energy generation facility on land and suggested that it should be greater to encourage renewable energy project development. Hearn responded that the 100 kW capacity cap was intended to capture larger facilities on undeveloped land, while the capacity cap for energy generation facilities on or in water has not yet been determined.
8. State Agency Actions & Legislative Actions
Hearn noted that he submitted comments, which were distributed to Council members in advance of the meeting, for Raised Bill 837 regarding PFAS firefighting foam; Raised Bill 839 regarding pesticide regulation; and HJ 53 regarding a Resolution for LIS Blue Plan to the Environment Committee.
Hearn stated that the Council is monitoring several Raised Bills, including the Governor’s Climate Bills. Hearn reviewed some of the key provisions of the following Raised Bills:
- SB 884 - An Act Concerning Transportation-Related Carbon Emissions – to implement the program to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation;
- HB 6441 - An Act Concerning Climate Change Adaptation – to authorize the creation of municipal stormwater authorities, enable a local-option buyer’s conveyance fee, address flood prevention, and expand the investment options for the Green Bank.
- SB 882 - An Act Concerning Climate Change Mitigation and Home Energy Affordability – to codify a goal stated in Governor Lamont’s Executive Order No. 3 (100% zero carbon in the electric sector by 2040), procure active demand response measures and passive demand response measures, and institute energy labeling and disclosure policies for real estate.
Hearn added that there are a number of other bills that address green building standards, appliance efficiency, the Energy Conservation Management Board, and extended producer responsibility (EPR) for tires, smoke detectors, and certain gas cylinders. Charamut noted that the proposed language in the EPR legislation will be ineffective in addressing the issue of tire disposal in Connecticut. She added that the tire hauler license requirements are not an EPR measure and that there are not that many tire haulers in Connecticut. Dunbar noted that the new legislation might create more work for DEEP staff at a time when DEEP’s budget is proposed to be reduced. Kalafa agreed and suggested that the Council should look at the fiscal note for each proposed bill.
- Coventry Sewer Project
Hearn noted that the CGA’s Planning and Development Committee is considering Raised Bill 701 that would allow the Town of Coventry’s proposal to extend the sewers from Bolton along Route 44 into Coventry. He added that DEEP requested an advisory report from OPM regarding the proposed sewer proposal and its consistency with state policies and State and local Plans of Conservation and Development. There was general discussion regarding DEEP’s former and more recent policies regarding privately funded projects that rely on publicly funded infrastructure. Hearn added that while OPM has not provided a definitive advisory report to DEEP, OPM has indicated that DEEP’s reversal in policy and other communications with the Town of Coventry has resulted in confusion. Charamut noted that she believes there is support for Raised Bill 701 in the Planning and Development Committee and it would set an undesirable precedent that State and local Plans of Conservation and Development need not be considered for certain projects. Kalafa agreed and added that the cost of maintaining the sewer infrastructure could be the responsibility of the Town of Coventry if the anticipated economic development does not occur as envisioned. Hilding questioned how best to convey the concerns of the Council to the legislature. After additional discussion, Charamut made a motion for the Council to request that the Environment Committee consider the implications of Raised Bill 701; seconded by Hilding. The motion passed unanimously.
Kalafa added that the Council should continue to monitor the communication between DEEP and OPM. Hearn agreed and noted that the focus of the comments to the Environmental Committee will be on the precedent that would be set if the legislature enabled the development of certain projects that may not be consistent with State or local Plans of Conservation and Development rather than focus on the uncertain environmental issues. Dunbar suggested that DEEP and OPM should both receive a copy of any correspondence to the legislature. There was general discussion regarding economic development in areas of eastern Connecticut.
- Permit Assistance “Concierge Service”
Hearn reviewed the key provisions of DEEP’s Client Concierge Service and noted that certain categories of projects will receive added support from DEEP’s staff in seeking regulatory approval for high priority projects.
- Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management (CCSMM)
Hearn reported that the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee hosted a public information session on February 8, 2021 to discuss waste management options including unit based pricing (aka Pay As You Throw/SMART) and revisions to the “Bottle Bill”. He added that there will be an Organics Infrastructure Initiative kick-off meeting on Friday, February 26. He also reported that there will be meetings and webinars this spring and through 2021 to help municipalities learn about waste management programs.
- Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)
- Petition 1437/Docket 497
Aresta reported that the Council submitted comments in Petition 1437 for the proposed project that concerned wildlife (eastern box turtle) and core forest impacts. He noted that the currently proposed project, the subject of Docket 497, is almost the same and the comments have been revised to address largely the same concerns. Vidich questioned if it is anticipated that a large volume of chemicals will be used or stored onsite and whether a Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures Plan (SPCCP) is required by regulation. Aresta responded that he didn’t believe so, but the construction equipment would likely refuel at the site and the use of a SPCCP would be a proactive measure to protect groundwater.
- Petition 1441
Aresta reported that Bloom Energy Corporation proposed to construct a customer-side 1,750-kilowatt fuel cell facility at Yale New Haven/Lawrence & Memorial Hospital at 412 Ocean Avenue in New London. He added that the proposed site is developed and that no comments are recommended.
- Petition 1442
Aresta reported that SR Litchfield, LLC petition for a 19.8-megawatt AC solar photovoltaic electric generating facility on 6 contiguous parcels located in Litchfield and in Torrington. Aresta added that comments have been drafted that address wetlands and vernal pools, vegetation, visibility, farmland soils, and stormwater. Charamut noted that surface water quality is an issue that needs attention. Kolesinskas noted that often times certain herbicides and fertilizers are needed to adequately support and control vegetation. He recommended that the comments be revised to encourage the use of organic pesticides and mechanical methods to control invasive plants.
- Petition 1398A
Aresta noted that LSE Pictor, LLC requested a reopening of this petition based on changed conditions after the CSC denial of a Petition for a 1.99-megawatt AC solar photovoltaic electric generating facility on an approximately 104 acre parcel located off of Platt Hill Road in Winchester. Aresta added that many of the Council’s concerns, which were enumerated in prior comments, have been addressed satisfactorily in the record and no comments are recommended.
9. Other Business
Hearn noted that March 22 is Connecticut’s annual World Water Day. He added that many environmental groups will hold a virtual celebration exploring “What Water Means to Me.”.
Hilding indicated that it is expected that this will be the last meeting that she will attend as a Council member and that her term expired some time ago. She added that the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate is expected to appoint a new designee to the Council as her replacement for the next meeting. Many Council members and Hearn thanked Hilding for her service to the Council and the state of Connecticut.
Ainsworth asked if Council members wanted to discuss any other business. Hearing none, he asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:55 AM; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed.
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