Minutes of the June 25, 2014 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), Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, James O’Donnell, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Allison Hall (Intern).


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

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the meeting agenda. Dunbar moved approval; second by Karyl Lee Hall. Approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any additions or modifications to the minutes of the May 28, 2014 Council meeting. Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes, which was seconded by O’Donnell and approved unanimously (Hilding had not arrived at the time of the votes).

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported that the Council’s annual report received much press coverage and favorable comment. She said that she thought the format of presenting the final version of the report during the Council meeting was a good one.

She said she will be unable to attend the July meeting, due to a prior commitment, but will appoint an acting chair and will participate by phone.

Public Comment

Chair Merrow noted that there were no members of the public present wishing to address the Council.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener agreed that the annual report received more attention in the news media than in the previous year. Much of it was on radio. He said that the Connecticut Television Network (CT-N) had it on its website and its Capitol Report Week in Review edited the meeting footage into a concise and clear summary. He said that the coverage at WNPR included a response from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) regarding the statistics on compliance by businesses with environmental regulations; DEEP suggested that the increased number of violations is evidence that DEEP is getting better at focusing its efforts on finding violators, even with fewer agency resources. This possibility was raised, among others, in the annual report.

Wagener said that some 2013 data which had not been available at publication have been obtained by staff and have been added to the report, including total nitrogen discharged to the state’s waters, and State Gross Domestic Product (GDP) created per unit of electricity used by business and industry. He said staff will issue a press release alerting the public to these updates. He said that the data for both indicators showed improvement.

He said that the question had been raised at a prior Council meeting if the improved GDP per unit of electricity consumption was a consequence of a change in the nature of industries in the state. He said that staff examined the question and determined that energy intensive categories such as manufacturing grew at a slower rate than sectors such as financial services that might consume less electricity. He stated that a week after the annual report was released DEEP released a report that confirmed that the state was on track to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals. DEEP’s news release indicated that Connecticut ranked third in terms of state GDP per unit of energy consumption when all types of energy consumption were included. Wagener said that when compared to other states in the northeast using the Council’s metric (that is, considering only commercial and industrial electricity consumption rather than all types of energy), Connecticut appears to be the most efficient. Dunbar said that it could be due to the high cost of electricity in the state, which drives efficiency and drives some energy-intensive businesses to go elsewhere. Wagener added that in New York and Massachusetts, the states that ranked higher in the DEEP news release, access to natural gas is greater and electricity might not play as big a role as in Connecticut. Karyl Lee Hall questioned if there is any significant correlation between GDP and electricity consumption if the state’s industrial composition has changed. Chair Merrow asked if a more meaningful measure, using all forms of energy consumption, is possible for next year’s report. Sherman suggested a measure that broke out businesses that were high energy users. Wagener said the indicator was first introduced to illustrate that growth in GDP is not dependent on an expanding electricity supply. O’Donnell said that on the national level GDP will correlate strongly with oil imports. Sherman noted that the military consumes a major portion of the petroleum consumed nationally. It was agreed that the current indicator could be made more meaningful by including other forms of energy.

Hilding expressed dismay at energy waste she had observed at some businesses and asked about the status of state incentives and conservation education programs for businesses. Dunbar said the business sector perennially identifies the high cost of energy in Connecticut as a significant cost, which creates its own incentive to conserve. Wagener and Karyl Lee Karyl Lee Hall mentioned programs available to businesses. Sherman noted successful incentives available to install photovoltaic panels. Discussion also followed on recycling old photovoltaic units. Sherman noted that the current efforts to salvage rare earth metals from other electronic equipment is often dependent on there being a worldwide pool of extremely low-paid workers who are willing to risk their health and safety to disassemble the equipment. Wagener said the state has focused on product stewardship one product at a time and has addressed electronics, paint, mattresses, and now batteries. He said that the Council’s intern, Allison Hall, had attended a conference at DEEP on implementation strategies for battery recycling. Wagener said that staff will look at what is being planned for recycling solar panels.

Wagener said that the Council had requested that staff investigate ways the annual report could be shared more easily by online readers. He said there are “share” buttons that could be installed for free on the website, but they involve associated advertising, which is unacceptable. He showed an “e-mail this link” button which he installed on the site that allows the reader to e-mail a link to someone. Dunbar asked if private environmental organizations can be encouraged to put a link to the Council’s report on their websites. Wagener said some have already done so and he will encourage others to do the same.

Wagener also briefed the Council on some minor changes to the Environmental Monitor that were needed to correctly the describe the multiple steps involved in the land transfer process, which staff determined recently do not need to be sequential.

Wagener briefly noted the two bills vetoed by Governor Malloy that pertained to environmental protection, specifically glass eels and liability for falling trees.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener said staff had reviewed applications for two cell towers before the Connecticut Siting Council. He said there did not appear significant environmental concerns with either. In response to a question, he explained the elements, such as significant scenic impacts, that are examined specifically.

Wagener updated the Council on the compliance of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) with the conditions of its current Title V air permit, in which the Council was involved in 2012. Staff examined CRRA’s monitoring reports for opacity, which it is required to measure every time the plant operates. He said that opacity testing was not conducted on several days in 2013 because of cloudy conditions. Members asked staff to find out if cloudiness was a legitimate reason for not conducting tests; in response to a question, Wagener clarified that he always contacted DEEP staff, not CRRA, on matters relating to the Title V permit. One exception to that is that he recently asked CRRA staff directly if the plant had switched yet to ultra-low sulfur fuel, which it was required to do when the old fuel was used up; he said that CRRA reported that hundreds of thousands of gallons of the ultra-low sulfur fuel had been brought in.

Wagener said that it had been noted in the Council’s report, “Preserved, But Maybe Not,” that DEEP and the General Assembly frequently are asked to convey parcels of public conservation lands to other parties. One process by which this occurs is through the General Assembly’s annual land conveyance act. Allison Hall completed a review of proposed and approved land conveyance bills over the past 20 years to determine if requests for transfers of public lands were becoming more frequent. He reviewed the study’s results through a series of “Power Point” slides Allison Hall had prepared. The study looked at total transfers from public ownership as well as “net” transfers which took into account land which had been conveyed to the state through the same process. The number of acres approved for conveyance out of state ownership, net and total, has remained fairly constant. However, the number of parcels of land requested has increased over time. Because the lack of review of the requested parcels was identified by the Council as a problem, the trend in requests seemed particularly informative, Wagener said. In response to a question from O’Donnell, Wagener clarified that some large parcels that had received much attention, such as the Norwich State Hospital and Seaside are not included because they were transfers initiated by executive agencies, which follows a different process, one that requires public notice. The conveyance bill is the subject of a public hearing but the approved version of the bill may include properties that were not in the bill at the time of the hearing. He said the process has led many people to advocate for changes to the legislative process, including a constitutional amendment to restrict such conveyances. Dunbar made some suggestions that would make the slides easier to interpret. Hilding questioned Allison Hall regarding the location of some of the largest parcels on the charts, and said it seemed to her that a significant number were in the northeast portion of the state. There was discussion of the impediments to obtaining an inventory of all conservation lands. Wagener said that DEEP has been directed by the legislature to develop an inventory of conservation lands.

The next topic arose from the Council’s desire to have more indicators of human health in its annual report. Previously, the Council noted that asthma incidence has been increasing as air quality improved, a finding that was not particularly illuminating. He said that staff had looked at the incidence of childhood asthma-induced hospital admissions and its correlation with bad air days and no association was immediately evident. He asked Allison Hall to show the summary slides she had created. Allison Hall showed the charts which demonstrated that for the five years examined at two locations, the rate of hospital admissions was lower on bad air days than on the average day for that year. Dunbar said he would like to see the same data seasonally adjusted; O’Donnell and others agreed. In response to a question, Hearn said that a recently-published study had failed to find an association between asthma incidence and particulate matter, but did note that studies detected differences associated with the make-up of the particles. O’Donnell said that the air pollution “bad air day” threshold could be too high to show a response. Hilding said that there are so many triggers for asthma the task of sorting out causation is very difficult. Dunbar said the rate on bad air days should be compared to the rate on good air days as another test of correlation. Wagener said that Allison Hall will continue to work with the data.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener said the Council had very recently received a comment from a municipal wetlands agency that was receiving numerous applications from residents who wished to treat their ponds with herbicides. Though municipal wetlands commissions in the state can regulate any associated dredging or filling, according to DEEP guidance, DEEP has exclusive authority to regulate the spraying. Applicants to DEEP for aquatic pesticide application are required to notify the local wetlands agency, even though the local agency’s authority is very limited. He said that this is frustrating to the local wetlands agency. Wagener asked if the Council wished to include this topic as a future agenda item. After discussion it was decided not to take this up at a future meeting until more information is available; staff would obtain more information.

Discussion of Public Participation Questions

Mr. Arthur Smith was invited to speak. He had spoken to the Council at its April 23, 2014 meeting and provided the Council in advance of this meeting with several documents. Mr. Smith’s comments focused on an event in 2013 in which a Council member, after corresponding via e-mail with the Council’s Executive Director, declined to present expert evidence for a fee on behalf of a client of Mr. Smith on a wetlands application. Mr. Smith asked the Council to fully investigate the role of the Executive Director in providing legal advice and the lack of ethical guidelines provided to Council members in the professional use of their services. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Smith for his time and input. Mr. Smith answered several questions and then left the meeting.

Chair Merrow divided the concerns into the specific question of the duty and responsibilities of the Executive Director and the more general question of conflicts of interest for Council members. Hilding asked about the Executive Director’s specific responsibilities in this area. Chair Merrow replied that every agency is required to have an Ethics Liaison, and that Wagener is the Council’s officially-designated Ethics Liaison. She read from the “Agency Ethics Guide: Ethics Liaisons and Compliance Officers” published by the Office of State Ethics (OSE), which contains the following guidance for Ethics Liaisons:

Role of Ethics Liaison Concerning Legal Advice -- The Ethics Liaison provides assistance and is responsible for providing information to employees regarding provisions in the Code of Ethics as well as maintaining communication between our Legal Compliance Division.”

After considerable discussion, the Council agreed, by consensus, that Wagener’s actions of communicating with the Council member and the OSE were entirely consistent with his duties and responsibilities, that Wagener would remain the Council’s Ethics Liaison, that the Chair should write to Mr. Smith to communicate this conclusion, and that the matter is resolved.

The Council discussed the general ethics rules that govern members’ outside contracts. Members agreed that they are all bound by the Code of Ethics for Public Officials and that they individually may request advice and opinions directly from the OSE, though Dunbar noted that written advice generally is not received on the same day, which was the short time frame involved in the 2013 case. O’Donnell described some of the procedures that govern faculty members’ outside contracts at the University of Connecticut. Sherman described what has been the norm at the Council, whereby members routinely have abstained on matters where they might have a conflict or be perceived to have a conflict. He said that the case in question, in which a Council member was asked to take on a client after he had participated in a meeting at which the matter had been discussed, was highly unusual, if not unprecedented, and might never occur again. O’Donnell suggested that, for these unusual occurrences, the Council probably could come up with a simple process that members could use to avoid and manage potential conflicts. Chair Merrow agreed, and said this would be on a future agenda.

Chair Merrow said the issue of public participation at DEEP hearings has been in the Council’s “bike rack” and will need to be taken up along with other matters in the rack at the July meeting. She asked members to review the inventory of bike-rack issues that had been distributed and to contact staff if anything had been left out. Hilding suggested adding the issues of proposed realignment of regional councils of government and water utility coordinating committees and the potential environmental consequences thereof, and also the apparent proliferation of buses instead of rail.

Dunbar suggested that the proposed webpage on how citizens may participate in Council meetings, which had been distributed to members in advance of the meeting, should be posted; Merrow said that it would be posted and that members should communicate any suggestions for improvements to staff right away.

Other Business

Sherman reminded the Council that it is time to consider a location for a citizens’ forum.

Dunbar moved to adjourn, seconded by O’Donnell and approved unanimously. The meeting was adjourned at 12:37 PM.