Minutes of the September 9, 2015 special meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in conference room 6-B on the sixth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford, to replace the August 26 meeting which had been cancelled.

PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet P. Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall (by phone), Alison Hilding, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:47 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting that a quorum was present.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the agenda. Hilding asked for an addition to allow her to raise some questions about air monitoring at the end of the meeting. This addition was made.  Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda with the addition. Hilding seconded and the motion was approved by all.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the July 22, 2015 meeting. Hilding moved approval. Dunbar seconded, and they were approved unanimously.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow noted that Michael Klemens had resigned to from the Council. She updated the Council on communications she has had with legislative leadership and the Governor’s staff to alert them to the vacancies on the Council.

Citizen Comment Period

No citizens appeared to speak.

Citizen Complaints

a. Update on compliance at hazardous wastewater treatment facilities.

Chair Merrow introduced Margaret Miner and Tony Mitchell of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut to discuss the conclusions of their report on the three hazardous waste treatment facilities in the state that might be qualified to apply for permits to receive and treat fracking wastes. Earlier information had been presented at the February 25, 2015 Council meeting.

Ms. Miner said that the report was prompted by a desire to know when exceedances have occurred, how large they were and why they occurred. The stimulus of their investigation was the review being undertaken by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) regarding fracking waste products.

To measure the severity of exceedances they created an index. Points were assigned for the number of exceedances per quarter, and again for the times when the exceedance was greater than 100% of the allowed quantity, and again for “significant non-compliance” with the conditions of the permit. They displayed a graph showing the performance of the three facilities for the last three years, based on the index values.

Many questions followed from the Council. There was great interest in how waste was transported to the facilities, how it is stored, labeled, and whether publically owned treatment works (POTWs) were alerted to possible hazards that were on the way to those plants. Dunbar was able to describe how the waste is shipped to and stored, and provided information on the possible problems those chemicals can create in the operation of one of those POTWs, especially when the pH or chemical constituents disrupt the microbial balance needed for efficient plant operation. Although dilution reduces risk to the operation of the POTW, the waste, if not digestible by microbes, will pass through the plant to the environment.

Discussion followed on the science behind the discharge standards of the permits. Dunbar said that there is usually a safety factor in the standards, which in turn is based on the potential types of exposure or ecological effects.

Ms. Miner said that determining the environmental consequences of hazardous waste pass-through is one of the recommendations that has come out of the Rivers Alliance Study. The recommendations include:

1. Exceedances at hazardous waste treatment facilities should be reported immediately to the receiving POTW.

2. POTWs should measure their effluent for the hazardous wastes received and processed.

3. There should be downstream chemical and biological monitoring of receiving streams to determine the effect hazardous waste could be having on the environment and to establish a baseline against which future levels could be evaluated.

Dunbar said that establishing causation could be difficult with stream monitoring due to all the unauthorized discharges and non-point sources of hazardous chemicals. He also explained the urgency of notifying PTWS would vary depending on the specifics.

In response to a question from Hilding, Dunbar said there could be case where low level exceedances of some chemicals are a greater risk than high exceedances of others. He said that usually the limits will reflect the risk, but sometimes the risk being avoided is disruption of the treatment plant. Other limits could reflect a risk to human health or to aquatic systems.

Ms. Miner said that DEEPs decision on fracking waste is due in 2017. The performance of these hazardous waste treatment facilities is extremely relevant. The one located in Bridgeport is up for a permit renewal in 2016 and the Meriden facility is to be renewed in 2018.

The discussion turned to public access to the data about hazardous waste and exceedances. While acknowledging that EPA’s ECHO website contains vast amounts of data, Ms. Miner said it lacks some of the specificity a citizen inquiring about a facility might be seeking – such as the reason for the issuance of a notice of violation. This information is available in the state’s database, but is not accessible to the public. Wagener noted that a citizen looking for specific data might not find it in DEEP’s File Room because active files are often on the desk of the DEEP staff person in charge of the project. Chair Merrow asked the Council to consider for future discussion whether a recommendation on improvements to transparency for notices of violation would be appropriate. Wagener said that the issue of transparency will be addressed in another staff report to be discussed later in the meeting.

b. Staff updates on various complaints

Wagener said that staff has been working on the three complaints that were brought to the Council in previous months relating to stormwater permits and mining. He reiterated that the investigation will ultimately lead to a single report.

Wagener, Hall and Brooks discussed the implications of the recent state Supreme Court Decision on the limitations of diversion permits at mining sites. Dunbar asked if the decision would pertain to stormwater permits since they are a delegated federal authority. It was the consensus that a registrant probably would have to comply with the requirements of all levels of governmental authority, so federal requirements would be additive.

Wagener said that he and Hearn could outline for the Council what they have learned in investigating these complaints but that there remain some areas of uncertainty which should be resolved after a meeting with key DEEP staff in a few days. As examples of some apparent problems Wagener cited the difficulty in enforcing certain provisions of the stormwater permit, monitoring of sites by DEEP, reliance on self-reporting, electronic access to permit registrations received by DEEP, and the Siting Council’s role.

Wagener noted that one problem, cited at a previous meeting by Ms. Miner, was soon to be resolved: the federal government was scheduled to release an update to the outdated rainfall frequency data that has been in use since 1961.

He asked Hearn to answer questions the Council had asked previously about the size and distribution of mines in the state. Hearn showed two charts. The first depicted the most recent data available for sand and gravel mining by counties. The second showed the number of mines in each county, color-coded to indicate which had registered for the required Industrial Stormwater General Permit and which had not. It was clear that the majority did not have permits. He noted that if the stormwater is wholly contained on site, the mine is not required to have that permit, but he did find mines that had permits in the past and no longer did, leading to the question of whether DEEP tracks and inquires about a failure to renew a permit. He made the point that the Construction General Permit requires an investigation of a site for possible archaeological or historical significance. No such request is made of sand and gravel mines, despite the fact that they occur in alluvial soils and can span many acres. Brooks noted that the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act includes a cultural component. Hearn said the staff investigation pointed out how the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) could make it easier for DEEP and the general public to keep informed of its recommendations regarding specific sites. Wagener said that he would try to have the draft of this report ready for the next Council meeting on September 23 and if approved, would like to invite interested agencies and people a meeting in October to discuss the draft.

Dunbar said that a common theme and bigger issue that recurs in discussion of this and other topics is compliance and monitoring of compliance. There is a need to look at the big picture of how the state manages this, especially in a time of decreasing resources.

Wagener gave a brief update on the complaint that the Town of Newington had failed to comply with the provisions of a state open space grant. He said that DEEP staff visited the site but had not completed its work.

Wagener said that the Council received complaints from persons objecting to DEEP’s plan to kill the bear at Sessions Woods who followed and then approached a hiker. He said the complaints came in on the day that the bear was shot, making action moot in that case. He said that should these incidents persist, it might be appropriate for DEEP to examine its policies on bear handling, since this bear and another killed in the same property had prior human encounters.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener asked the members present to sign a certificate of appreciation to Michael Klemens for his excellent service to the Council.

Wagener passed around a copy of Food Foolish, the Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change, a new book co-authored and donated to the Council by former Council member John Mandyck.

He said that the subcommittee on developing ethics-related guidance to members will have a telephone meeting on September 15 at 11:30 AM.

Wagener describes some recent “upgrades” to Google Charts which disrupted several pages of the annual report, now fixed.

Members agreed that staff should look into scheduling a forum at the Legislative Office Building in advance of the session to solicit public input on recommendations.

Indicator of the Month

Wagener said that using the research work of the summer intern, Julius Graefe, and consultation with four biologists (Robert Askins of Connecticut College, Milan Bull of Connecticut Audubon, Patrick Comins of Audubon Connecticut, and Jenny Dickson of DEEP) who were generous with their time and expertise, staff was able to create a new indicator for the annual report. Charts had been distributed in advance of the meeting. He added that new forest acreage data is expected from UConn this year. Dunbar said that he is pessimistic that the state can reach its open space preservation goal by continuing the pursuit of small parcels. Wagener said that the Green Plan, the state’s strategy for conserving land, will be a topic soon. The Council agreed the new indicator had promise.

Other Business

Hilding said she is under the impression that the state air quality monitors are sparse in less populated areas and asked how locations are chosen. Wagener agreed that there are fewer in less populated parts of the state and will ask DEEP about it.

There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar so motioned, second by Hall. Adjournment was at 12:04 PM.