Minutes of the April 27, 2016 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, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:33 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Chair Merrow asked for approval of the agenda. Hall made a motion to approve that was seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any revisions to the minutes of March 23, 2016. There were none and Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes, it was so motioned by Dunbar, seconded by Brooks and approved with the abstention of Hall who had not been in attendance at that meeting. Hilding arrived.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said that there had been many citizens and organizations who have spoken to legislators about the importance of the Council and the need for its continuance, and she wanted to note her appreciation for those efforts.

Highlights of Environmental Quality in Connecticut

Wagener said he wished to review for the Council the minor modifications that had been made pursuant to the discussion at the March meeting, and also the arrival of last-minute data. In addition, he wished to show the Council two new charts that might better express trends already depicted in the report.

Using PowerPoint he showed the overriding theme that emerged from the report’s data. He explained how the “At a Glance” page was reformatted to reflect this theme. The greatest improvements seen over time appear in indicators which are a consequence of enforceable regulation and firm goals. The second category that seemed to matter was for indicators where there was a combination of regulation with investment. Indicators for which there was only good intentions and unenforceable goals showed the least progress. He cited examples of each category noting the difference in progress among them.

When Wagener came to the CEQ Air Pollution Index he referenced the recent American Lung Association “State of the Air” report and discussed how its ratings and the Council’s are based on different metrics. He added that beginning in 2016 a new federal standard for ground-level ozone will be in effect that will necessitate the recalculation of the chart next year and probably will show more “bad air days.”

He showed the new goals, derived from the revised Long Island Sound Study’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for hypoxia and beach closings, noting that Connecticut had already achieved those targets, at least temporarily. Kolesinskas said this is partially attributable to the last two years of moderate drought conditions. Dunbar said New York remains a major problem and is far behind in achieving its goals. Wagener said that staff is still awaiting the data for the chart, initiated last year on dissolved nitrogen in the Long Island Sound. It could warrant a press release when obtained, depending on its significance. Other trends he noted were that fish species with a preference for warm water had become more common in the Sound, and the numbers of both warm-preference and cold-preference fishes have been on the decline since 2012.

Forest loss has leveled off for both total forest and core forest.

He showed a proposed new chart for forest birds, based on a moving average rather than the chart which was first presented to the Council showing half-decade average population groupings. It was clear from the weighted averages that both forest birds and birds with a preference for shrubland or young forest have been declining in recent years. He showed a proposed addition to the Bat page that depicts the decline in the number of species with healthy populations, similar to the chart on the Turtle page. There was consensus that the new charts should be added to the report.

Wagener next presented the household energy choices page. There was much discussion of the reasons for the changes in consumer choices among renewable energy options. It was suggested that staff research the factors that might have led to those choices.

Hilding made the point that photovoltaic panels are not environmentally benign. There is no plan in the state for their end-of-life disposal, they are shipped from Asia with unfortunate environmental consequences. The processes by which they are produced involves multiple affronts to the environment. She added that solar farms are poorly sited in many communities.

After Wagener finished his review of the report, Chair Merrow commented on its educational value, and thee re was discussion of its distribution. Dunbar noted that it is rare to find such a comprehensive report written for laymen, and that is one of its strengths. There was some discussion of potential new indicators; Brooks suggested consideration of depicting changes in the growing season as a consequence of climate change as an easily understood addition to a future report.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener outlined the history of the Council in the various budget proposals issued this session, which was discussed by the Council.

With regard to the bill requiring the New Britain Water Company to select a contractor approved by the Council to conduct an environmental assessment, Wagener said he had communicated the Council’s preference to change “approved by” to “acceptable to,” and thought that such a change was possible.

Wagener said he is unaware of any further action on the bill to establish a “shelf life” for Environmental Impact Evaluations. He said that the version of the wildlife bill approved by the House no longer contains a provision to ban the commercial harvesting of Snapping turtles. He added that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced that it intends to move forward with a proposed regulation to reduce the catch and possession limits for snapping turtles.

Wagener said that the resolution for a constitutional amendment to guide the conveyance of state-owned conservation lands was referred to the Environment Committee.

In response to a question, Wagener said the bill which would regulate the consumption of water by water-bottling plants had been approved by the Senate. Charamut said there might be a problem with its wording.

Wagener reported that the permit for an alternative sewage treatment system at a facility with a record of noncompliance in Clinton, on which the Council commented in July, is still pending at DEEP.

Wagener reported that the Commission for Economic Competitiveness had published a report which is a diagnosis of the state’s strengths and weaknesses; it makes no mention of the environment. Some discussion ensued.

Citizen Complaints

Hilding said that a number of people in Mansfield are concerned that the decision by the University of Connecticut to not build a new dormitory while continuing the expansion of enrollment has raised the demand for off campus housing, with resulting social and environmental consequences.

Wagener said that the consultant who was characterizing the pollution at a site in Tylerville (Haddam) had submitted documents to DEEP. DEEP has not yet responded. Members agreed that it might be good to invite DEEP to the May Council meeting.

Discussion of Draft Comprehensive Open Space Acquisition Strategy

Wagener asked for input on the draft of comments to DEEP about this plan that were sent to the Council members prior to the meeting. Very much discussion followed. Chair Merrow summarized the textual changes that were agreed upon and as well as the major substantive additions: In a time of depleting financial resources, the report should emphasize the role of partners and creative methods of preservation, and the report should include projections of what will be possible under various funding scenarios. There were several suggestions for rewording the letter, and Kolesinskas had several comments on the plan. It was decided that a revised draft of comments on the plan will be discussed at the May meeting.

Review of State Agency Actions

DEEP Notice of Tentative Determination: Intent to Reissue the General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater associated With Industrial Activity – Wagener referred the Council to the draft comments regarding DEEP’s intent to renew the current General Permit with no changes for two years. Reiser reported what he had learned from staff at DEEP about the process. Dunbar reported that, for some permits, consideration is being given to adopting the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s permit and electronic reporting system. Extensive discussion followed on the appropriateness of the archaeological role within the permit, and whether a two year wait for a new draft version of the permit is excessive. It was decided by consensus to send a letter, drafted by staff and subject to the approval of the Chair, noting the urgency of the issue and urging as short a period as reasonable for the adoption of the draft.

Others – Wagener reported that the EIE for the Hartford-Brainard Airport Fence concluded that the “no action” alternative was the only feasible alternative; he noted that he had not seen an EIE with that conclusion in a long time.

Other Business

Kolesinskas said that the use of productive farmland and forest for solar farms was a problem that deserved the Council’s attention. Members agreed and instructed staff to prepare information for the May meeting that explains the state’s roles in siting solar energy facilities.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn which was made by Hilding and seconded by Hall. The meeting was adjourned at 12:16 PM.