Minutes of the March 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.

CT-N: The meeting was broadcast on the Connecticut Television Network (CT-N). It can be viewed on demand at http://ct-n.com/ondemand.asp?ID=8838&autostart=false

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Susan Merrow, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Courtney Robishaw (Intern).  

At 9:05 AM, Chair Barbara Wagner noted there was a quorum and called the meeting to order.

Chair Wagner asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the February 27, 2013 meeting. Merrow made a motion to approve the minutes, which was seconded by Sherman and approved unanimously.

Discussion and Approval of the Annual Report

Wagener began the discussion of the revised draft of the Annual Report. He pointed out that the data for three indicators were not available yet; a benefit of an online publication is that as data become available it can be added. He said “eAlerts” will inform the public of the addition, and said people would be encouraged to sign up for eAlerts at the Council’s website.

He asked Hearn to review the section of the report that deals with Long Island Sound. Hearn noted two charts where the annual change showed an improvement yet the longer trend does not. This can happen when there has been an abnormal spike followed by a return to the historic trend.

Wagener thanked Hearn and returned to the environmental quality indicators. Fernandez suggesting changing the name of the drinking water indicator to “public drinking water” so it does not suggest that private wells are tested or at the same high standard as are the public systems. Members concurred.

Wagener asked Robishaw to review for the Council the two transportation-related indicators. Robishaw said that per capita car trips are decreasing and added that this phenomenon has been observed nationally to be especially prevalent among the part of the population that is under 25 years of age. She said that bus trips per capita are on the increase. Hall and Merrow observed that these trends could be due partially to demographics, as both old and young seek out urban centers where public transportation is available. Robishaw mentioned digital technologies that can make public transportation more popular, such smart phone apps that track bus arrivals.

Hearn continued the presentation with an overview of the other “personal impact” indicators. Hearn said that the data for the energy consumption indicators had not yet arrived. With regard to the greenhouse gas indicator, Sherman said that the anticipated regional expansion of fracking technology could warrant measuring methane in future reports. After viewing the indicator for recycling, there was much interest in the state’s recycling rate, which has not changed in years. The structural problems associated with enforcing the recycling law at institutions, residences and resource recovery facilities were discussed.

Wagener introduced a revised page for Long Island Sound with new indicators of climate change and sea level. Chair Wagner, Sherman and Hall said that the changes evidenced by these changes are not neutral and should be portrayed as potentially negative environmental developments.

Wagener explained that there will be three versions of this online report. One will be interactive, where chart values will display when the reader’s cursor is placed on the chart. In the second, the charts are not interactive, for people with computers or devices that might not be able to display the interactive charts. The third is a PDF version, designed for printing.

Chair Wagner suggested the cover letter to the Governor put into context the most urgent issues and trends faced by the state. Merrow said that would be of value for legislators too, an asked how many years the Council has published numerical indicators in this report. Chair Wagner said the lack of progress in 2012 in recycling, land preservation and purchase of farmland development rights is concerning. Sherman said that if a critical environmental concern has data that is suspect or weak, the need for better data tracking should also be addressed by the Council. Fernandez made a motion to approve the report as had been presented by staff. This was seconded by Barbara and approved unanimously. 

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said Chair Wagner had submitted testimony to the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee regarding the proposal to merge the Council into the Office of Government Accountability. He said that several organizations had submitted testimony, and that the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut had gathered many signatories to testimony opposing the merger.

Wagener reported that he also testified regarding the bill to regulate outdoor wood furnaces. He said it could have been stronger but it is better than the current regulatory structure.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener said that a complaint had been received regarding the process that led up to the proposal to include Canadian hydropower as a “Class I” renewable source of electricity. The objection was that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) released its recommendations on the proposal just before the legislative hearing and before the comment period was closed, thereby precluding consideration of comments. After some discussion, members asked staff to brief the Council next month.

Review of State Agency Actions

Quinebaug Regional Tech Park Environmental Impact Evaluation – Wagener said that the state’s involvement is the construction of a bridge to the site. He said the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) adequately addressed the issues, including the lack of an adequate water supply for the site. Merrow asked if the tax revenues will be shared regionally. Maya Lowenberg of the Department of Economic and Community Development answered from the audience that they would be shared. No comments were recommended.

Eastern Connecticut State University Master Plan Update EIE – Wagener said the short format of the EIE was in line with Council recommendations of the past that advocated short document. He recommended submitting comments to this effect but also noting that the decision to eliminate some irrelevant impacts from consideration required some documentation, and also that an EIE should make it clear how the scoping comments were considered. Also, there was no mention of the Willimantic Greenway. Members concurred that such comments should be submitted.

Sherman restated that the process whereby the DEEP made its recommendations regarding Canadian hydropower should be discussed at the next meeting and would like to have it placed on the agenda.

Chair Wagner adjourned the meeting at 10:24 AM.