Minutes of the July 23, 2014 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

PRESENT: Richard Sherman (Acting Chair), Janet P. Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Michael W. Klemens, Susan Merrow (on phone), Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Allison Hall (Intern)

At 9:35 AM, Sherman called the meeting to order, noting that a quorum was present.

Sherman asked for a motion to approve the meeting agenda.  Klemens moved approval; second by Dunbar.  Approved unanimously.

Sherman asked if there were any additions or modifications to the minutes of the June 25, 2014 Council meeting.  Hilding made a motion to approve the minutes, which was seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously, with Klemens and Brooks abstaining because they had not been present at the meeting.

Public Comment Period

Margaret Miner, Executive Director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, brought to the Council’s attention the Water Planning Council’s proposal to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Connecticut to design a plan for implementing Public Act 14-163. Hilding made a motion to add this item to the agenda for discussion and possible action, seconded by Klemens and approved unanimously. Several members said that the statewide water plan was a project of great significance to the state, and that the public should have an opportunity to review and comment on major steps along the way. Sherman asked what the Council’s advisory role might be. After considerable discussion, Dunbar made a motion to send a letter to the Water Planning Council recommending a public review and comment period for the proposed memorandum; the letter should include the reasons for this recommendation, including the need to have complete transparency and the trust and confidence of the public at every step, and the need to make sure that all aspects of water resources, not just water supply, are included in the early planning. Hilding left at this point to attend another appointment. The motion was seconded by Klemens and approved unanimously. 

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported on the publication of the July update to the annual report, and news coverage of the same.

Following up on items raised at the June meeting, Wagener said that staff had collected some information on the South Meadow “jets” power plant and also photovoltaic panel recycling, which would be reported at  a future meeting. There was some discussion of the need to look into decommissioning of large solar projects as a topic for future review, and a suggestion that it could be discussed with the Connecticut Siting Council along with the other topics of mutual interest. (Brooks noted that she would abstain from any discussion of large solar installations.)

Wagener noted that he had received correspondence from Environmental and Human Health, Inc. regarding outdoor wood furnaces and the suggestion that their use be prohibited on air alert days in the summer. Members discussed this briefly.

Allison Hall reported on her latest statistical analysis of asthma data and still found no correlation with air quality exceedances. While this analysis does not mean there is no relationship, the data does not lend itself to use in an indicator in the annual report. Members discussed this information and its possible uses.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener said that Environmental Analyst Peter Hearn had reviewed the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for the proposed pedestrian overpass in New London. Unfortunately, a family medical emergency prevented Hearn’s attendance at the meeting. Wagener presented a brief summary of the project and comments received by the Council. The Council had received comments that suggested the EIE was inadequate in its analysis of energy impacts. Wagener said that Hearn had discussed this with him, and that Wagener’s own conclusion was that the chronic problem of inadequate energy analyses in EIEs was not a significant issue in the subject EIE. Members suggested that the larger issue be taken up but that no comments be submitted on this EIE.

Setting Priorities

Members discussed the list, prepared by staff and distributed in advance of the meeting, of topics raised at prior meetings and had been placed in the metaphorical bike rack for later retrieval, discussion and possible action. Wagener began by noting that Allison Hall had begun analyzing data for an item that was not on the list but was something the Council had previously indicated it wanted to have done, namely an updated report on the delivery of training to municipal inland wetlands and watercourses agencies. Klemens thought this would fit well into the “wildlife and biota” category, as would the topics listed under the land conservation heading.

There was agreement that the public participation issue would be taken up soon. In addition to inviting DEEP to a meeting for discussion, members asked staff to identify organizations or individuals who might wish to communicate with the Council regarding their experiences with the administrative hearing process and possible improvements. Also on the topic of public participation, Dunbar suggested that the Council could expand its own website pages to include more information for the public on how to find information about proceedings and how to participate. Klemens added that people need guidance on how to make their comments meaningful.

Members agreed that the Council needs to follow up on the anticipated amendments to the DEEP regulations for implementing the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act, and directed staff to write to DEEP to invite it to the August meeting to discuss the need to revise the regulations and the need to improve specific sections of the regulations, including those pertaining to energy analyses as well as the projects that are sometimes proposed with no analysis of alternatives.

Members agreed to aim for an earlier publication date for the 2014 annual report, perhaps as early as February if data are sufficient. Dunbar suggested adding some short-term indicators that measure progress toward required actions, such as those DEEP are required to complete pursuant to the state lands bill adopted in 2014; other members concurred.

Merrow left the meeting at 11:02.

Members added additional items for future action. Under land conservation, Brooks proposed creating a subcommittee for pursuing the Council’s recommendation for a constitutional amendment to protect conservation lands. Klemens asked staff to share his recent letter with other members that addressed the topic of using data from the Natural Diversity Data Base properly or improperly, and asked that this be put on the August agenda.

The meeting was adjourned at 11:35 AM.