Minutes of the October 23, 2013 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Michael Klemens, James O’Donnell, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Linnea Gotberg (Intern).

At 9:07 AM, Chair Merrow called the meeting to order, noting the presence of a quorum.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any additions to the agenda. Brooks made a motion to approve the agenda as presented. This was seconded by Klemens and approved unanimously.

Sherman made a motion to approve the minutes of the September 25,, 2013 meeting; second by Merrow. The motion was approved, with Brooks, Klemens, and O’Donnell abstaining, having been absent for all or part of that meeting.

Hall arrived.

Merrow mentioned that the Governor directed agencies to identify regulations that are obsolete or otherwise in need of revision. She suggested the Council could assist in this effort and might want to communicate with DEEP about this in the future.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow announced that Klemens had recently been appointed to the Connecticut Siting Council.

Chair Merrow asked the Council members if they wished to combine the December 5 legislative forum with the Council’s monthly meeting, or whether they prefer to keep the scheduled December 18 meeting as the monthly meeting. It was decided to keep the events separate and retain the December 18 monthly meeting in addition to the legislative forum on December 5. Hall encouraged all members to attend the December 5 Forum.

Chair Merrow said it is time to schedule the Council’s meeting dates for 2014. She asked if the fourth Wednesday of the month remains acceptable. Klemens said that time lost to traffic delays is greatly reduced when the meeting time is later. After discussion, it was decided to schedule the 2014 meetings for 9:30 AM.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said it was suggested at the September meeting that a representative of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) be invited to explain the classification system that is being used for its stream flow maps. He said a representative from DEEP is available for the November 20 meeting. All agreed that a presentation at that meeting would be useful.

Wagener referred the Council to a chart prepared by staff, at members’ request, that had been circulated prior to the meeting which displayed the percentage of DEEP permit applications that had public hearings each year. He asked Hearn to provide additional information on what was discovered doing the research. Hearn said that DEEP staff attributed the annual fluctuations to random variation caused by the normal ebb and flow of economic and social forces on the process of governance. He said that although 2011 and 2012 indicated a noticeable drop in hearings per application, the results for the first 3 quarters of 2013 matched the annual total for 2010. Dunbar suggested that closer examination of data might yield other explanations. Hearn said that some of the data sought was not tracked by DEEP so was not available. Sherman asked what are the numbers of hearings being discussed? Hearn said from 2000 through August 2013 there were approximately 18,000 permits issued in the categories considered. The number of hearings per year ranged from as few as 2 to as many as 13.

Sherman said that the process of hearings can be very discouraging to people who show up expecting to discuss the broad merits of a proposal and learn the hearing is only about a narrow aspect of it. Dunbar said that often multiple hearings can be required for different aspects of the same project and that discourages public participation. Klemens said the website of the Siting Council makes very clear the process to intervene and participate in its proceedings. Hall said that DEEP proceedings are governed by the Rules of Practice. Dunbar added that often there are federal as well as state rules that can govern hearings for a project. He said that these can specify minimum times for public notice or for comment periods. He said a “win-win-win” would be to standardize these across programs. This would make the process easier for applicants, the public and hearing officers. Sherman said it seemed to him the last two decades have been marked by deregulation. Merrow suggested that it might be worthwhile to include these suggestions in a recommendation regarding regulations.

Wagner continued with the Executive Director’s report. He said another focus of staff inquiry has been the performance of packaged sewage treatment systems, referred to as Alternative Treatment Systems or ATS. He said the Council produced a paper in 2008 predicting inadequate resources at DEEP to monitor ATS performance. He asked Hearn and Linnea Gotberg to report on what they have learned so far. Gotberg began with an overview of the study design. She said that it had two parts. The first was to determine if, on the whole, the systems were performing as intended. The second was to determine the effectiveness of DEEP in monitoring them. She reviewed the files for all 45 ATS in the state and examined reports from the years 2011 and 2012. About 60% of the monitoring reports showed at least one violation of a permitted maximum. She added that often these were only slight exceedances. The samples examined were of effluent after discharge from the ATS, prior to discharge into the leeching field. This is not evidence of a significant negative environmental impact upon leaving the field. Hearn said the second phase of the study will be an examination of levels at the periphery of the leeching fields to assess environmental impact.

Gotberg said some facilities occasionally, and in some cases frequently, fail to submit their required monthly or quarterly reports. Hearn added that due to insufficient staff, DEEP addresses the issue of inadequate reporting when a permit comes up for renewal. Before the permit is re-issued, a system with violations must demonstrate successful operation and compliance with the reporting requirements. He said a permit’s duration can be 10 years. Dunbar said that it was his experience that the non-reporting facilities are also the facilities mostly likely to not meet other requirements and should be a priority for response by DEEP. Wagener said that Gotberg had identified chronic violators. Hall said the performance and compliance of these systems should be accessible to the public on the DEEP web site. O’Donnell agreed and added that the successful performance of these systems is crucial in coastal communities, where they might become more common as more traditional septic systems fail as sea level rises. Hearn said DEEP plans to have monitoring results reported in the same way information for publically-owned treatment systems are reported. 

Dunbar said that these systems are deemed too small to warrant close attention by the state, considering staff resources. He said that it is the communities where they are located that perceive the development facilitated by these systems to be of benefit. Consideration should be given to shifting responsibility for monitoring their performance to those locales. Wagener said the facilities now pay an application fee, but the fees now go to the General Fund, so that an increase in fees would not necessarily result in more resources for DEEP. Dunbar explained that ATS allows for development in areas where conditions would not allow large development otherwise. He suggested they should be allowed only where they would improve an existing bad situation. Klemens said that towns and developers must learn to live within the environmental constraints imposed by geography; poor drainage for a septic system is comparable to steep slopes as an impediment to good development. It is a natural constraint to development that should be acknowledged. Brooks said she would like to see the Council publicize the results of the report when it is finished.

Wagener next updated the Council on some items of interest. He said the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee is examining sustainable funding for state parks and forests. Chair Merrow added that there is a forum on Thursday, sponsored by Representative Hampton, regarding state water planning.

Environmental Indicators and the Measurement of Environmental Conditions: Reports of Project “Point People”

Chair Merrow asked Brooks and Klemens to report on their progress regarding the indicators for human health. Brooks summarized the interviews she had with three noted experts in human health and epidemiology. Each was asked for recommendations regarding maladies that are suspected to have a link to environmental causes. Although different diseases were suggested, childhood leukemia and childhood asthma were suggested by both. Breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were deemed to have weaker causative links to the physical environment. A discussion followed on whether breast cancer should be discarded, given the fact that Connecticut has the highest breast cancer rate in the nation. Klemens said that the tracking of indicators such as these might be best done on a multi-year analysis rather than an annual analysis. He suggested West Nile virus as an addition to the list of environmentally caused diseases; he said the mosquito that carries it is it is associated with degraded wetlands and poorly flushed drainage areas.

Hall said that given the tenuous links between human health and environmental conditions the Council’s choices in this area cannot be held to strict scientific proof. A “reasonable connection” should be sufficient. Chair Merrow said that correlation is not necessarily causation, but it can be and can serve to show if the environment is more or less toxic than previously. Dunbar added that although environmental factors can affect health, improved modern diagnostic techniques can skew the analysis and make historic conditions appear better than they actually were. O’Donnell cautioned that the inclusion of any indicator that did not have a firm causative link would undermine the report’s credibility.

Chair Merrow asked about childhood asthma as an indicator. Brooks said the Department of Public Health (DPH) tracks environmental factors that pose a health risk through its Environmental and Occupational Health Assessment. She said that the US Environmental Protection Agency has just published its third edition of America’s Children and the Environment which shows trends in environmental health. He said the World Health Organization calculates illness as disability-adjusted life years. Wagener said staff had begun an examination of the asthma – air pollution connection in 2012. Klemens said that childhood diseases are a better measure of the environment’s effect on public health than are adults; presumably they have not traveled to as many environments as adults. Chair Merrow asked where such data could be obtained and if childhood leukemia would be a better measure of the health – environment connection.

Hearn said staff research into asthma and the environment was halted because of difficulty getting specific information on hospital admissions. That information was tied to personal medical records that could not be made public. He added that correlations between asthma and air pollution “hot spots,” as suggested by O’Donnell and others, will have to control for other variables such as wealth and access to health care.

Discussion turned again to the question of whether breast cancer should be retained as an indicator and what standard must be met for inclusion in a report on the environment. Chair Merrow summarized the conclusions agreed on: 1) revisit the data on childhood asthma, 2) obtain data on childhood leukemia, 3) The data does not necessarily have to be reported in annual intervals, 4) Examine the possibility of including West Nile data for an environmental link, 5) Lyme disease will not be included as an indicator, despite its links with human-caused environmental changes. She said the staff should report on this at the next meeting.

Chair Merrow asked Klemens to report what he has learned about possible indicators for nonhuman biota. Klemens said he spoke with Jenny Dickson of DEEP and she is very interested in helping select animal groups whose population changes can be attributed to environmental factors. He said the focus will be on species that are endangered, threatened or are of special concern. Dunbar said that the data from the Audubon Society would be worth investigating. Dunbar said DEEP closely monitors many game species. Some of these, such as Ruffed Grouse, merit consideration. Dunbar recommended for review DEEP’s metric of changes in warm water and cold water species in Long Island Sound. He said including a measure of managed species has the value that those are the ones people care about. Wagener mentioned that a fish species indicator appears in the Council’s annual report, which also has an indicator of forest bird species population trends.

Chair Merrow asked for ideas and suggestions for how to make opinion leaders and the general public more aware of the annual report and the information contained in it.

Review of State Agency Actions

Post-Scoping Notices for two projects of the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Brooks recused herself from this discussion. Wagener referred the Council to the response of the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development to the Council’s letter regarding differing approaches to two projects – the pedestrian overpass in New London and the construction of a corporate headquarters in Stamford. O’Donnell said the most significant aspect of the Stamford project is the change in state policy to require water dependant uses in waterfront locations. Klemens said he was surprised to see that only three people offered comments on that project when it was posted in the Environmental Monitor. Wagener said there might be a problem with terminology and with public understanding of the role of scoping. Most believe that scoping is always preliminary to an EIE, which is not always the case, as a scoping process can lead to a post-scoping notice that an EIE is not required. He said that DEEP’s regulations regarding scoping out of date and need to be revised to be consistent with the statute and environmental classification documents.

Brief Updates from Staff on Other Projects

Proposed Land Transfer, former Cedarcrest Hospital Property, Newington – Wagener explained the surplus land procedures of state agencies. The land was offered in its entirety to other state agencies, and DEEP declined, having no direct use for the land as a park or forest. At the current stage of public notice, DEEP submitted recommendations to preserve parts of the property through conservation easements. Wagener asked Graham Stevens of DEEP, who was in the audience, if he wished to elaborate. Mr. Stevens said DEEP recommended that the town be given ten acres, as directed by a special act, and that DEEP retain a conservation easement on those acres. DEEP also recommended preservation of the ridgelines on the property. The ridges provide habitat for rare species. Preservation would be consistent with the state’s Ridgeline Protection Act which lists this ridge as worthy of preservation. He said that DEEP’s comments were sent to the Office of Policy and Management and, as indicated in the Environmental Monitor, public comment is welcome during the 30 days following submission.

Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park Expansion, Bethel – Wagener reiterated that this property was acquired with state financial assistance 30 years ago. Fifty acres was subject to a 30-year conservation restriction. When the restriction expired, the town proposed development of the 50 acres. DEEP commented during the scoping process, expressing concern about drinking water watershed lands. As indicated in the Environmental Monitor, the town has decided to develop only 10 acres and to avoid the areas of concern identified by DEEP.   

State Open Space Strategy – Wagener noted that Amy Patterson, Executive Director of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC), was in the audience. Wagener said that he would be participating in the annual meeting of the CLCC’s steering committee to help clarify its input to the Green Plan, and had worked with Ms. Patterson on a workbook to guide discussion. He asked the members if they would like to go through it, at least in part, at the November meeting, as the Council has a statutory obligation to provide input to the Green Plan. All agreed. Wagener asked Graham Stevens of DEEP when it would need to be submitted for consideration in the state’s Green Plan. Mr. Stevens responded that comments received in December could be considered for review by DEEP. Mr. Stevens said DEEP is working with the University of Connecticut (UConn) to create digital tracking of properties that are protected through DEEP’s open space program grants. This type of information will greatly improve strategic planning for conservation acquisitions. Hall suggested that a detailed, digitized map be a condition of open space grants. Mr. Stevens said that such a condition will commence with the next grant round. He said it is the intention of the agency to make grants available annually. In response to a question from O’Donnell, the goal for land preservation is to have 21 percent of the state’s land be set aside for conservation. Of this, 10 percent is to be held by the state and 11 percent by conservation partners. He said that the state has now preserved about eight percent.

Status of Preserved Lands – Wagener referred to the memo that had been circulated in advance of the meeting. As discussed at a prior meeting, he drafted the memo to describe the problems and to consider improvements to the way in which state conservation lands are proposed for transfer to other owners or uses. It was not on the agenda for action; he asked the members for suggestions after they have had time to consider it. Klemens said he was glad to see that the memo noted the oft-overlooked importance of sandy, shrubby habitat. 

Citizen Complaints

Wagener said the staff received a complaint about a non-commercial vehicle that was emitting smoke. He said that although DEEP has a regulation prohibiting visible emissions from vehicles, that regulation is not enforceable. He said the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has inspectors on the road doing safety and pollution inspections of large commercial trucks but not other vehicles. The state depends on the biennial emission inspections to control pollution on smaller vehicles. Perhaps DEEP’s regulation should be added to the list of outdated regulations to be fixed. In response to a question from Hall, Hearn said that the DMV recommended contacting the local police for a small truck or passenger vehicle with a severe smoke problem.

Preliminary Discussion of Recommendations for Legislation

Wagener explained to the newer members that the Council prepares a draft list of recommended legislation each year; after the list is published, the public is invited to comment, or make recommendations of its own. Those recommendations from the public are often incorporated into the Council’s final recommendations. O’Donnell said that he would like to see some of the items be more specific than they were last year. Sherman said there should be attention to laws that were passed but not executed by the executive branch. Brooks questioned the absence of a recommendation regarding training for wetlands commissioners; Wagener suggested that since DEEP had just instituted major changes in how that training is conducted, it might be better to wait until it is known what effect the changes will have before making additional recommendations about the training process. Hall said that energy is conspicuously absent from the list. Dunbar said there should be a call for statewide water planning. There was considerable discussion of the appropriate ranking of invasive species among the ecological threats, with Klemens and O’Donnell suggesting that it is overstated and that habitat fragmentation is much more serious. Dunbar said that invasive species follow fragmentation, so they are much intertwined.

At 12:02 PM Chair Merrow adjourned the meeting.