Minutes of the January 27, 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, Matthew Reiser, Alicea Charamut, David Kalafa, and Lee Dunbar.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), and Matt Pafford (Office of Policy and Management – OPM).
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 if there were any changes to the agenda. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the agenda. Dunbar made the motion to approve; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of December 16, 2020
Ainsworth asked if there were any changes to the draft minutes of December 16, 2020. Hearn reported that a Council member suggested a change in Section 7, Executive Director's Report, from "General Permit for Stormwater “to the permit’s actual title, “General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters from Construction Activities”. Hearing no other suggested changes, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the revised minutes. Reiser made a motion to approve the minutes of December 16 as revised; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.
4. Citizen Comment Period
Ainsworth asked if there were any members of the public that wished to speak at this time. No members of the public spoke.
5. Chair’s Report
Ainsworth noted that he did not have anything to report.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a few complaints and inquiries from citizens including:
- A person in Mystic was concerned because a neighbor was undertaking construction-related activities that might affect tidal wetlands. Hearn reported that this activity illustrated a “loophole” in wetlands regulation. State laws give jurisdiction over tidal wetlands to the State. Municipalities exercise authority over other land uses, including inland wetlands. The regulations enacted to implement the State’s tidal wetlands law do not explicitly allow for State intervention when an activity that is upland of a tidal wetland threatens it. Kolesinskas agreed and noted that the unregulated area upland of tidal wetlands has been an issue for some time. Hearn said that the problem has implications for the future migration of tidal wetlands as water level rises in response to climate change.
- Hearn reported that, at the request of a resident, he helped coordinate a meeting and inspection at the former landfill that has become a town park (Kosciusko Park) in Stamford. The inspector from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) saw some fabric and a tire on the site, but the inspector thought the fabric might be part of a silt fence. It is uncertain if the tire was part of the landfill materials. Hearn is awaiting the final report.
- Hearn said that the town planner of Thompson contacted the Council after reading the Council’s report (Low Deposit, Low Return) on the need for changes to the State’s bottle redemption program. She reported on Thompson’s pilot program to buy-back small alcohol beverage containers (nips). Over a five-month period in 2020, the Town implemented a buy-back for nips. A 10-cent value was assigned to each nip. Volunteer collectors were rewarded with gift cards to local retailers. Approximately 50,000 nips were redeemed during the pilot program. Hearn said that this effort highlighted the need to include nips in the State’s bottle redemption program.
- A person suggested that state residents should utilize a moisture meter to analyze the watering requirements for their lawns in order to reduce water use, especially during times of drought. Both Kolesinskas and Ainsworth agreed that much water is wasted that need not be.
- Hearn noted that the residents in and around the Harbor Point area in Stamford continue to have environmental concerns and that he has focused his efforts on trying to determine if any information requests to DEEP remain unanswered. Hearn added that DEEP has been very cooperative and helpful in responding to numerous inquiries from the residents.
7. Executive Director’s Report
- Email Issue
Hearn reported that Application Services at the Department of Administrative Services apologized for numerous emails that were not delivered until in early January, though they had been sent in November 2019. Hearn added that Council staff received several inquiries regarding the delayed emails.
- Council Recommendations for Legislation
Hearn reported that the legislative priorities for the 2021 legislative session, previously approved by the Council, was distributed to legislators and subscribers. He noted that the recommendations regarding regulation of pesticides were not included because DEEP indicated that the Council’s recommendation for electronic filing of pesticide data is forthcoming in the spring of 2021. He added that DEEP has indicated continuing interest in legislation this session to reduce the likelihood and impact of heating oil releases.
- Update - Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management (CCSMM)
Hearn reviewed a summary of work undertaken by the CCSMM participants. He noted that there was general support for expanding extended producer responsibility programs, implementing organics diversion, implementing pay-to-throw programs (aka unit-based pricing), and modernizing Connecticut’s “Bottle Bill”.
- Update – Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3)
Hearn reviewed the key findings of the GC3’s Phase 1 Report on near term actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that was released earlier in the month. Hearn added that there are sixty-one recommendations in total, some with multiple parts, included in the report. In the interest of time, Hearn identified eight recommendations from the Phase I Report that address recent issues of concern to the Council.
- Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) Program
Hearn noted that in December, Governor Lamont, the Governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and the Mayor of Washington DC jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish the TCI program. Hearn noted that the TCI program is designed to increase investment in clean transportation technologies to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the transportation sector. Hearn added that fuel suppliers would have to purchase allowances to compensate for emissions from the combustion of transportation fuels and that thirty-five percent of the proceeds would be invested in communities overburdened by transportation pollution. He stated that it was projected that the cost of the CO2 allowances could increase fuel costs by no more than 5 cents per gallon.
- Update - Final Decision - Docket No. 18-12-25
Hearn reported that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) issued a final decision in its Docket for the electric utilities’ vegetative management practices (PURA Review of Electric Companies' and Electric Distribution Companies' Plans for Maintenance of Transmission and Distribution Overhead and Underground Lines). Aresta added that the final decision is very similar to the draft decision reviewed last month; however, PURA included a provision to allow for the standard 8 feet to the side, 10 feet below and 15 feet above trimming if the company (United Illuminating) complied with the notice provisions articulated in Connecticut General Statutes, Section 16-234(c).
- Environmental Summit
Hearn highlighted the key speakers and important topics that were discussed during the Environmental Summit. Hearn added that key points from the Environmental Summit included:
- Governor Lamont indicated that there is a possibility that the new Killingly Energy facility will not be constructed due to market forces;
- Commissioner Katie Dykes spoke on several topics and highlighted the importance of addressing the State’s solid waste crisis; and
- the Co-Chairs of the legislature’s Environment Committee and the Speaker of the House, Representative Matthew Ritter, noted that modernization of the “Bottle Bill” was a priority.
8. Staff Activities - Progress on Annual Report and ECD Revisions
Hearn noted the Council’s staff has been updating the 2020 Annual Report. Hearn reviewed the charts and graphs for several indicators including climate, air quality, land preservation, water quality, wildlife, renewable energy, and invasives. Specific comments and discussion for the charts include:
- Dunbar noted that the trend line for the “precipitation over 1 inch” on the precipitation chart did not appear to be correct. Hearn indicated that he would look into the issue.
- Hearn said that it did not appear that the land preservation goal would be achieved by 2023. Kolesinskas noted that the land that is designated as “preserved” by DEEP’s partners might not actually be “preserved” and that DEEP’s database of state properties needs to be completed. Ainsworth questioned if Public Act 490 properties are included in the land preservation data. Hearn said they are not. Kalafa noted that municipalities are required to provide the Public Act 490 properties as well as the “ten-mill” property data to OPM and that the Council should contact OPM to obtain the data.
- Aresta presented and explained some of the new charts that were developed for the report. These included:
- a chart that shows the different forest types in Connecticut as well as the percent change in forest types between 1985 and 2015;
- a chart on illustrates the amount of carbon storage and sequestration of the State’s forests; and
- a chart on Connecticut wetlands types.
Aresta noted that in the wetlands chart, the wetland area was derived from the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) data that uses imagery to determine land cover, which is different from how wetlands are identified in Connecticut (soils). Kolesinskas supported using soil data to quantify wetland impacts. Dunbar suggested using a different chart to depict the impacts on wetlands over time. Hearn added that it is a challenge assessing actual wetland impacts because the data is incomplete. Charamut noted that the need to evaluate the effectiveness of “engineered wetlands”. Kolesinskas noted that wetland values and functions are not adequately reflected in the current wetland chart. Dunbar noted that a significant issue is that better training for members of municipal wetland commissions and more staff is needed. Hearn added that despite assurances from DEEP last year, the online training for wetland officials is still not available.
- Hearn reviewed the chart on hypoxic conditions in Long Island Sound. Kalafa noted that the western portion of the Sound experiences more area and a longer duration of hypoxic conditions than the eastern portion of the Sound. Dunbar noted that the area of hypoxic conditions in the Sound is well below the goal line. Charamut suggested that the reduction in hypoxic conditions may be due to the implementation of policies to reduce nitrogen discharges. Dunbar suggested that the greatest areas of hypoxic conditions depicted on the chart may have been the result of meteorological conditions rather than policy changes. Ainsworth questioned if it would be better to assess the hypoxic conditions in the eastern, central, and western portions of the Sound separately. Hearn noted that, historically, the Council has assessed hypoxic conditions in the all of the Sound to highlight that reducing hypoxic conditions requires effort from all of Connecticut’s residents.
- Aresta showed a new chart on impervious cover and impaired streams. Charamut asked if the data included all streams or just the streams that have been assessed by DEEP. Aresta responded that it includes only assessed streams. Dunbar suggested that the Council staff should contact DEEP’s water quality monitoring section to ascertain if water quality data is available for other waterbodies not assessed by DEEP.
- Aresta reviewed two new charts on the impact of Public Act 17-218 for:
- solar project capacity; and
- total solar capacity of projects that were proposed in 2020 that are exempt from the agriculture and core forest provisions of Public Act 17-218.
- Hearn reviewed an image depicting the conversion of farmland to some other land use from 2001 to 2016 and noted that most of the changes appear in the central part of the state.
Environmental Classification Document (ECD) Revisions
Hearn reported that Council staff has been working primarily with OPM and DEEP to revise the Generic ECD. He reviewed the following key changes:
- a definition of “developed land”;
- a requirement for Scoping when the proposed project’s development footprint is comprised of at least 75 percent previously developed land;
- a requirement for Scoping when the proposed project requires “expansion of the hydraulic capacity of an existing sewage treatment plant”;
- a requirement for Scoping of “any action, other than maintenance or repair of an existing facility, which would convert 5 or more acres of land from an active agricultural use to a non-agricultural use, or which may significantly affect 5 or more acres of undeveloped Prime Farmland Soil, Statewide Important Farmland Soil, and/or Locally Important Farmland Soil - as defined in 7 CFR § 657.5 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, to Part II; and
- a requirement for Scoping for “development of an energy generation facility on undeveloped land or water, excepting an emergency generation facility”.
Hearn noted that OPM has been helpful and has considered the suggestions of the all agencies. Kalafa questioned whether “emergency generation” is defined in the ECD. Matt Pafford indicated that it is not, but there is an exemption for “emergency measures undertaken in response to an immediate threat to public health or safety”. Kalafa and Kolesinskas suggested removing the language for “emergency generation” since there is already an exclusion for emergency measures in the ECD.
9. State Agency Actions & Legislative Actions
- Revised General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters from Construction Activities (GPSW)
Hearn noted that the General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters from Construction Activities was revised and became effective on December 31, 2020. He reviewed some of the key provisions of Appendix I, which specifically addresses construction activities associated with solar arrays.
- Release-Based Regulation Working Group
Hearn reported that the second working group meeting was held on January 12, 2021. He added that both he and Ainsworth were assigned to the “tiers” subcommittee group.
Department of Agriculture (DOA)
- Karabin Farm
Hearn reported that DOA has acquired developments rights to permanently protect forty-eight acres of prime and important farmland soils on the Karabin Farm in Southington. He added that some of the farm had been proposed to be part of a solar project that was submitted to the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) and that the DOA commented in that proceeding (Petition 1424) that the project would displace prime farmland. Hearn also reported that he was interviewed by a reporter from the Hartford Business Journal and provided information regarding the conversion of agricultural land to energy facilities.
Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)
- Petition 1438
Aresta noted that Bloom Energy Corporation proposed two 500-kilowatt fuel cell facilities to be located at the Dyno Nobel campus in Simsbury. He added that Hearn submitted comments regarding the Petition that addressed noise and wetlands. Hearn added that the comments addressed factual errors in the Petition filing and it was submitted in advance of the Council meeting so that CSC staff would have sufficient time to have the Petitioner clarify the information.
- Petition 1439
Aresta noted that Eversource Energy proposed the installation of a new 45-foot steel pole with a whip antenna to be located at an existing substation in Canton. He added that no comments were recommended.
- Petition 1440
Aresta noted that Verizon Wireless proposed to extend an existing monopole support structure for a billboard sign approximately forty-five feet to accommodate telecommunications antennas. He also noted that the proposed facility would be located in a commercial area near Interstate 95 in New Haven. He added that no comments were recommended.
- Petition 1437/Docket 497
Aresta reported that Petition 1437, which was for a proposed 3.5 megawatt solar facility in Burlington, was withdrawn on January 22, 2021 and that the proposed project was filed as an application for a Certificate on the same day. He added that the Council submitted comments to the CSC regarding the proposed project that addressed wildlife (eastern box turtle) and core forest impacts. He also noted that DEEP submitted comments in the Petition 1437 proceeding noting the proposed project would “materially affect” core forest. There was general discussion regarding the applicability of Public Act 17-218 to the proposed project. It was the consensus of the Council members for Hearn to submit comments regarding the proposed project to the CSC to reiterate the Council’s original comments, unless circumstances have changed.
Legislation - Raised Bills of environmental importance.
Hearn reviewed a partial list of proposed legislation that has been introduced in the current session that addresses some of the Council’s recent concerns, including PFAS foam, pesticides, waste management, modernization of the “Bottle Bill”, air quality, and protection of farmland soils. He added that there is also a proposed bill to increase the cap for the residential solar program, a proposed bill to separate PURA from DEEP, and a proposed bill to allow all-terrain vehicles on some state-owned land.
Hearn added that a bill was proposed to extend the sewer service area into Coventry. He said that the Council submitted comments regarding the proposed sewer service area expansion project to DEEP because the proposed project was inconsistent with commitments made in the Environmental Impact Evaluation for the sewer line to which the Coventry sewer would have to attach. He said that there is no evidence of septic failures that would justify the sewer expansion and it is clearly an economic development project that is inconsistent with state policy. Kalafa indicated that if the proposed legislation goes to a vote, legislators would be on record of supporting a project that is inconsistent with state policy. Pafford added that DEEP requested an advisory report from OPM regarding consistency with state policy; however, it is DEEP’s responsibility and they will make the decision on whether the proposed project is built.
10. Other Business
Hearn questioned how best to submit comments regarding proposed legislation given the monthly schedule of Council meetings and the short timeframe for legislative public hearings. Dunbar noted that Hearn’s judgement and prior comments reflected the Council’s priorities and he made a motion to authorize Hearn to develop and submit comments on proposed legislation on behalf of the Council, as appropriate; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed.
Ainsworth asked if Council members wanted to discuss any other business. He also asked if any member of the public wished to speak. Hearing none, he asked for a motion to adjourn. Kalafa made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:58 AM; seconded by Dunbar. The motion passed.
 (Access Passcode: .NTB&1Xe)