Minutes of the November 19, 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), Janet P. Brooks, Karyl Lee Hall (by conference call connection), Alison Hilding, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn  (Environmental Analyst), Jonathan Bauer (Intern)

At 9:40 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.  Hall made the motion which was seconded by Sherman and approved by all.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any additions or modifications to the minutes of the October 22, 2014 Council meeting. No changes were suggested. Brooks moved to approve the minutes. Hilding seconded. The motion was approved. Sherman abstained because he had not been present at that meeting.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported that James O’Donnell resigned from the Council and his presence and scientific expertise would be greatly missed. A short discussion followed on the need to fill the two vacancies on the Council and the process by which that is done. A certificate for O’Donnell was circulated for members’ signatures.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that there is a possibility that this will be Jonathan Bauer’s last meeting, since the next meeting will be after his internship ends. He said that Jonathan had done excellent research and work for the Council. All concurred.

Wagener said he found a prominent passage in the state’s Plan of Conservation and Development of 1987 that described the problem of sea level rise and coastal flooding. Had it been heeded, perhaps much of the damage from recent and future storms would have been avoided.

Citizen Complaints

CPV Towantic Energy Center – Wagener said that the Council had received two letters regarding a proposed natural gas powered electricity generating plant in Oxford. Hall said she wished to recuse herself from any discussion of the issue. Wagener reviewed the history of the project, which received Siting Council approval in 1999. He said the Siting Council voted last week to re-open the docket at the request of new owners. This will allow the successor company to submit a revised application for the modified plant at the location. He said that after an application is submitted to the Siting Council it will solicit input from other state agencies; at that time the Council will be able to review the application and offer comments if appropriate. Bauer noted that his grandparents live near the proposed facility and they report that there are very many residents strongly opposed to it.

Sherman said that too often these issues are narrowly drawn around parochial concerns regarding local impacts, when they also have regional and even international implications. This project’s completion increases demand for gas from Marcellus shale and has implications for international gas resources. He would like to see any comments drafted by the Council take these broader issues into consideration. Wagener said he would be interested to see what, if any, comments are submitted by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in light of the current mismatch between natural gas supply and demand.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener said the staff had no recommendations regarding the Environmental Impact Evaluation prepared by DEEP for the proposed Farmington Water Pollution Control Facility Expansion and Upgrade.

Staff made no recommendations to comment on a proposed telecommunications tower in Salisbury.

Wagener said that in one of the cell tower applications received for review, but not yet due for comments, there is a lengthy “desktop avian impact analysis” that provides little or no useful information. He said it is similar to an analysis seen in an earlier application on which the Council commented. It is not based on a site visit; it is only a “desktop” review that concludes that the site is not one of the already-identified important birding areas. Hilding said establishing what is not there does not establish what is there. Wagener agreed and said this type of analysis can look impressive but is totally inadequate. Brooks asked if it was prepared by the same consultant that produced the one on which the Council had commented in the past; Wagener said he thought it was.

Indicator of the Month: Compliance

Wagener said that the Council has used the same measure of compliance for years – a measure of the percentage of DEEP inspections that found no violations. After years of hovering at about 90 percent for many years, the rate began to dip and then plunged in 2013. DEEP, which previously had adopted the same metric, had suggested that the drop might have been due to more targeted enforcement and not to a general failure to comply. Wagener said that DEEP’s points were important and might lead to some changes. Chair Merrow noted that Nicole Lugli of DEEP was in the audience and invited her to join in the discussion of this indicator. Ms. Lugli introduced herself and explained that she is in charge of enforcement policy and coordination. She described the variety of ways DEEP tracks compliance in many programs, which includes more review of electronic reports and thus is less dependent on physical inspections.

Sherman said that the effectiveness of new methods to find violators suggests that the violations had gone on for years prior but had just not been detected, and therefore the old estimates of compliance were too high. Ms. Lugli said staff at DEEP now have a good sense of which industries have high compliance rates and will be shifting focus to other industries. Hilding asked if NOVs require a site visit. Ms. Lugli said that some violations would not. Sherman asked how fraudulent paperwork is screened and what action is taken when discovered. Ms. Lugli answered that DEEP works with the Chief State’s Attorney and has won some very large judgments. She said that an increase in self-reporting will require DEEP to have a good auditing capability in the future.

Using graphics from the Council’s 2012 and 2013 analyses of environmental violations, Wagener showed that the state’s largest businesses did not receive many NOVs. It is the small entities that generate the most violations, especially those companies related to petroleum distribution. Hall and Brooks made the point that failure to keep records and submit required reports, a common type of violation, is important, because without proper filing it cannot be certain that pollution has not occurred and that the correct procedures are in place to prevent pollution.

Wagener said that the question of adherence to self-reporting and filing requirements ties into one of the legislative recommendations that will be discussed later in the meeting. Ms. Lugli said that DEEP has excellent data on NOVs and subsequent compliance, going back three years. Discussion followed on the specific statistics that would be available and whether it would distinguish among how the NOVs were issued and for which pollution categories they were issued.

Chair Merrow asked the Council if there was agreement that this indicator should focus on the role of the petroleum industry in this section of the annual report, as it appeared in the draft presented by Wagener. Ms. Lugli suggested that it not create the false impression that DEEP is focusing enforcement on the petroleum industry, or that it should be. Discussion followed on the graphic in the draft illustration and whether it was misleading. It was decided that staff should proceed with the draft with modifications and present the new page for subsequent approval by the Council. Hilding suggested wording that would avoid a misinterpretation of the graphic.

Brooks and Hall said they would like to see data on the volume of compliance orders and referrals to the Attorney General also. Wagener said that this data is available. He said the numbers are very small and consequently have not been used as a measure of compliance.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener reviewed six significant changes to the structure of the report. Following discussion, the Council asked staff to continue work on the changes for review in December.

Preliminary Discussion of Recommendations for Legislation

The Council discussed the potential list of recommendations and asked staff to circulate a draft for discussion in December. There was strong support for resurrecting recommendations from previous years aimed at getting municipal inland wetlands agencies to comply with statutory training requirements.

The Council discussed the question of whether it should schedule a public forum on the draft recommendations. This year, it was decided, the Council should solicit written comments from the public, to be received in time to contribute meaningfully to the Council’s discussions of the recommendations.

Other Business

Wagener reviewed the likely topics for the December 17 meeting. There being no other business, Sherman made a motion for adjournment, which was seconded by Hall. Adjournment was at 11:57 AM.