March 6, 2008
Contact: Karl Wagener
CEQ OUTLINES FINANCIAL COMMITMENT REQUIRED TO MEET STATE'S ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS
HARTFORD – The Council on Environmental Quality today delivered a report to Governor M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly that measures the gap between what Connecticut is spending for parks and environmental protection and what it needs to spend to meet its goals.
“To meet the goals Connecticut has set for itself, it will cost more than we as a state are now spending,” said Council Chairman Thomas Harrison, “ but the total amount is not daunting.”
The need for capital investment in water pollution control, farmland and open space conservation, and recycling adds up to about 190 million per year, said Harrison. Capital usually comes from General Obligation bonding, but it does not need to, as there are alternatives.
Over the past five years, Connecticut has spent an average of about 48 million each year on capital investments.
“The good news,” continued Harrison, a resident of Avon, “is that Governor Rell and the General Assembly acted in 2007 to improve the situation.” In the current fiscal year, there will be about 125 million dollars available for capital investment, if the State Bond Commission allocates it all, Harrison said.
The report also examined the day-to-day responsibilities of the Department of Environmental Protection, and concluded that it does not have enough people to do its job.
“We learned some very interesting facts,” said Harrison, who mentioned some of them:
Many of the programs that you and I think of as core environmental protection programs, such as management of air quality, industrial waste and water pollution, and so forth, hardly spend any state tax dollars at all. They are funded by the industries they regulate and federal grants.
Some programs are remarkably lean. The whole state inland wetlands program is staffed by two people (with a third being hired).
Remarkably, the DEP spends no more state tax dollars (adjusted for inflation) in a day of operation than it did in 1972! Today, that is not even one quarter of one percent of the state’s General Fund budget. With 35 years of added responsibilities, this clearly is not enough to get the job done.
To the extent the DEP uses state tax dollars, the largest share goes to management of state parks. Yet we know, thanks to a very thorough 2003 evaluation of the parks, that they are greatly underfunded and understaffed.
In addition to the capital investments of 190 million annually described above, the Council is recommending the following:
Fund state park operations at an adequate level to maintain the level of service and safety desired by Connecticut residents. This is at least 20 million General Fund dollars per year (one-eighth of one percent of the General Fund). This expenditure should be annual, and considered separately from environmental protection needs.
Provide General Fund dollars for environmental protection programs so the DEP can meet its objectives and move forward in the 21st century. The Council projects, based on what surrounding states spend, that the amount will be about two-thirds of one percent. The Council is recommending that an objective evaluation of DEP’s staffing needs for environmental protection programs be completed, similar to the one that was done for parks operations in 2003.
There are additional recommendations in the report, including a saltwater fishing license and returning all fees and revenue collected by the DEP to the DEP.
“We know that this can’t be done in one year,” said Harrison. “Perhaps, on the operational side, an addition of four million dollars to the DEP’s General Fund appropriation (for parks and environmental protection) would be a down payment that would enable the DEP to plug some immediate holes, and from there it could be increased gradually. But we can’t wait too long, or the window will close completely on some of these goals.”
The report also points out that Connecticut is not on track to meet its goal for greenhouse gas emissions, and for that the answer is improved standards and incentives for greater efficiency rather than state expenditures, Harrison said.
“I want to emphasize that a lot of these investments will have significant financial returns,” Harrison said. “For example, if Connecticut invests a modest amount in boosting recycling rates, and we actually meet the goals for recycling, Connecticut residents could save 100 million dollars per year.”
“Connecticut residents have set ambitious goals for a clean, healthful and enjoyable environment, and should be proud of that,” Harrison concluded, “but goals and plans are not enough. After all, you can’t aim a duck to death. Eventually you have to act.”
The Council is a state agency, independent of the Department of Environmental Protection, that is charged by statute to report annually to the governor on the status of Connecticut’s environment. In the Council’s June 2007 annual report, Environmental Quality in Connecticut, today's report on spending needs was promised.