Minutes of the February 27, 2013 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Conference Room on the third floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Susan Merrow, James O’Donnell, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).  

At 9:12 AM, Chair Barbara Wagner noted there was a quorum and called the meeting to order, and welcomed the new members.

Chair Wagner asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the January meeting. Wagener said Hilding was unable to attend the meeting but had sent a suggested revision in wording to the first sentence of the executive director’s report. He suggested deleting the sentence in its entirety due to redundancy. Sherman made a motion to approve the minutes with the suggested deletion. Merrow seconded, and the minutes were approved. Fernandez and Merrow abstained having not been present at the meeting. Hall and O’Donnell had not yet arrived.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener began with a discussion of the proposed budget for the Council. He said that Chair Wagner testified before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee on February 20.

Chair Wagener said that there was also testimony by citizens in support of the Council’s current staffing level. Wagener said he did not think there will be additional hearings on the proposal unless there is a public hearing on the implementer bill. Sherman asked why the Environmental Committee does not have jurisdiction, as it did in 2011. Wagener said that the proposal in that year was to keep the Council in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) while deleting its independent “for administrative purposes only” status. This year it is proposed to be merged into the Office of Governmental Accountability (OGA) and is therefore subject to a different legislative committee.

Chair Wagner said she would attempt to speak to some legislators who were not present at the hearing to discuss the proposed changes. Merrow observed that the cut to the Council position counts amounts to a 50 percent reduction, which is probably greater than any other agency’s count. By consensus, members asked the Chair to emphasize the benefits of the current administrative structure and staffing. Members asked staff to circulate regular budget updates whenever there is news to report.

Wagener addressed other aspects of the proposed budget. He said the capital budget proposes substantial bonding authorizations for the Clean Water Fund, farmland preservation and open space acquisition. He said a controversial aspect is the proposal to divert four million dollars annually from the Community Investment Act (CIA) funds to the Healthy Foods Initiative; the citizens who testified at the hearing generally endorsed the goals of the Healthy Foods Initiative but objected to the diversion from the CIA, which had been established specifically for purposes related to land use.

Wagner confirmed that another proposed change is the elimination of the state’s program to provide potable water and / or filters, on an emergency basis, to residences where wells had become polluted by chemicals, and that he had already received concerned emails about this proposal. Merrow asked how much the program costs; Wagener said approximately 200,000 dollars annually. Discussion followed on what recourse households would have. Wagener said that DEEP can order a clean-up by a responsible party if one can be proved. O’Donnell said that if DEEP can establish responsibility, the affected homeowner can use that in court. Wagener said the Council has seen examples of investigations and enforcement actions that have gone on for decades while wells remained polluted. Hall speculated that the absence of access to state-provided potable water could increase political pressure on DEEP to force a cleanup. Several people noted that the affected residents typically appear in small clusters and have no state-wide advocate. Brooks suggested the Council could be that voice. Chair Wagner said this should be followed closely. Wagener said he has a meeting scheduled with the DEEP staff in charge of the program to get more of the facts.

Wagener said that there had been discussion at the legislature about a proposal to allow the use of funds from an enforcement settlement to retrofit older outdoor wood furnaces to reduce pollution, but that could be controversial. The Council asked staff to follow this closely.

Wagener said that there will be a bill again this year to amend CGA Sections 22a-16 and CGA 22a-19, the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Brooks said that the source of the push for change is from developers who fear that under current law an opponent or a competitor can force project-killing delays with the threat of litigation and then back out at the last minute at little or no cost, except to the developer. She said this problem was raised years ago, and a group of attorneys proposed small adjustments to the state’s wetlands law and zoning laws to eliminate this possible abuse without having to change CEPA. She has been in communication with some of those individuals about this. In response to a question about data on the number of cases, Wagener said there are solid numbers that show less than one percent of DEEP proceedings see intervening parties under CEPA, but the situation at municipal hearings is entirely different.

Wagener said that another significant budget proposal is for the state to sweep into the general fund the 30 million dollars that the Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority has on deposit to cover landfill post-closure responsibilities; the state then would assume the liability for the environmental integrity of the five landfills while spending an estimated one million dollars annually to fulfill its duties. He said there is another proposal to eliminate one of the state’s fish hatcheries. He said that there is no apparent increase in the budget for the parks in their centennial year; the impact of the new budget on the parks is not yet clear.

Wagener said he testified at the legislative hearing on the proposed revision to the Conservation and Development Policies Plan, pursuant to the motion adopted in January.

Hall asked about the state’s new Comprehensive Energy Strategy. Both Hall and Sherman expressed concern that insufficient attention is paid to contingent environmental issues and the effect the emphasis on increased use of natural gas will have on investment in renewable sources and on long term increases to greenhouse gasses. Wagener said that the plan is not self-implementing and that even with its shortcomings there is value in having a statewide plan, and that each implementation step will have to be evaluated by all parties closely. Considerable discussion ensued, and the members said they wanted to revisit this at a future meeting.

Citizen Complaints

UConn Water Planning – Wagener referred the Council to an e-mail and letter he forwarded prior to the meeting in which citizens questioned the authority of the University of Connecticut (UConn) to conduct water supply planning. He said he is uncertain under what authority UCONN is doing its planning for water supply, and that the question is more appropriately addressed by the Attorney General or the DPH, as the Council does not have legal staff or authority to analyze statutory authorization. Sherman said the Council could point out the ambiguities in UConn’s status relative to water supply statutes. Members agreed that it would be worthwhile to consult with DPH. Fernandez suggested the Office of Legislative Research as a source of an opinion on the legal aspects of the issue. Wagener said he would pass that suggestion on to the citizens, and would begin with an inquiry of DPH regarding its understanding on this matter.

Review of State Agency Actions

Siting Council solicitations – Wagener said two requests for comments had arrived from the Siting Council. One concerned an application to replace a communications tower in West Hartford; the new tower will be taller than the old one and disguised as a cupola. The other project is a proposed photovoltaic installation in East Lyme. The project will be guaranteed favorable rates under a competitive process held in 2011. Staff recommended no comment on either.

Staff Updates on Projects – Wagener said that UCONN’s advisory committee to evaluate new locations for its short term hazardous waste storage facility had issued its final report. The current location has been identified as the least desirable location among the potential sites available.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener asked the Council to look at the list of environmental indicators that had been distributed. He pointed out that there are very few that improved in 2012. Most declined or showed no change. Chair Wagner asked if an indicator of sea level rise was available. O’Donnell said that such data are available and should be included. There was considerable discussion of marine life data as appropriate measures of the health of Long Island Sound. O’Donnell provided a synopsis of changes that were induced by warming of the Sound. He added that even with the absence of progress in this year’s indicators, it is important to note how bad things would be now if pollution control investments had not been made in previous decades. There was considerable discussion of the indicators.

The meeting was adjourned at 11:35 AM.