Minutes of the December 19, 2018 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality held in the Holcombe Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

MEMBERS PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director)

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

Approval of Agenda

Chair Merrow said she would like to add an item to the agenda under “other business”. She said that Janet Brooks, whose appointment to the Council has expired, will be resigning from the Council at the end of December. She said she would like to offer a resolution of appreciation. Reiser made a motion to modify the agenda which was seconded by Dunbar.  

Hall said this raises the question of timing of resignations and whether to continue in service to the Council if a replacement has not been named after a member’s term has expired. She would like this to be an agenda topic for a future meeting.

Approval of Minutes of November 14, 2018  

Chair Merrow asked if there are any changes to the meeting minutes for November 14, 2018. None was offered. Vidich motioned to approve the minutes as written. The motion was seconded by Kolesinskas and approved by all but Dunbar and Hilding, who abstained because they had not attended that meeting.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported that the annual environmental summit will be held on January 17 at Trinity College. She said it is a convocation of leaders of Connecticut’s environmental community to discuss legislative priorities for the coming year. It is worth attending.

Chair Merrow said that in Sunday’s edition of the Hartford Courant Greg Hladky had a story about what the environmental community would like to see as environmental priorities for 2019. She said she will send a link to the members.

Dunbar said that the environment committee of Governor-elect Lamont’s Transition Team is meeting today to report its recommendations.  

Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow introduced Susan Masino, a professor from Trinity College, who had come to present her concerns regarding climate change policies in the state.

Ms. Masino described her background. She is a professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Trinity College. She is currently on a sabbatical and is working on a collaborative project between Harvard Forest and the University of Connecticut Medical School. She is also a member of the Grange and is on its legislative committee. She has been involved in many woodland and open space preservation efforts including “Keep the Woods”. The urgency of the climate change crisis brought her to the Council. She said her experience working on environmental problems has led her to believe that simple solutions are the best, and that is something the Council is good at.

She described the improvements she has seen in public transportation since coming to Connecticut and identified some deficiencies that remain. She documented how bus schedules fail to accommodate off-peak ridership.

Dunbar asked her to send that detail to the Council. He said it would be an interesting sidebar in the Council’s Annual Report.

She said that the easiest steps to reduce CO2 emissions are to improve efficiency and to conserve energy. She would like to see the State take a more aggressive stance on these by promoting distributed generation and ground-source heat pumps for heating and cooling.

She believes that “zero carbon” strategies need to be subject to a life-cycle analysis that includes all inputs. She would like to see “net value” calculations and credits for “negative emissions”.

Responding to a question from Vidich, she explained that because forests and wetlands are carbon sinks they produce “negative emissions”. She said that despite common perception, old forests take up carbon at a more accelerated rate than do young forests. Kolesinskas corroborated that fact. He said that Connecticut's forests are not managed well, in part due to the fragmentation of ownership and of political jurisdictions. He added that lack of affordable housing is a driver of sprawl development in some areas.

Dunbar said that because of the huge contribution of transportation to greenhouse gasses, roof-top solar should be encouraged. An owner of a solar house is more likely to own an electric car because of the ease of recharging. Ms. Masino added that it is possible to power some household needs from an electric vehicle during a power outage.

Hall said that the Council’s coverage of transportation and air pollution linkages could be better. Chair Merrow said that the role of forests as carbon sinks can be explained in the Annual Report. Vidich said that when he lived in England there were mandates for energy efficiency in new construction. Ms. Masino added that solar thermal is a proven technology that could be included in CO2 reduction strategies. She said the Council is in a position to educate about these strategies.

She added that the proliferation of phragmites across the state is dire and knotweed is following suit. Charamut added that Hydrilla is the aquatic equivalent that worries her.

Chair Merrow said that the Annual Report could be organized around climate change issues, with an emphasis on lifestyle adjustments that make a difference. Hilding said there should be focus on the life-cycle of the products we use and the energy inputs, including transportation. Dunbar cautioned against going outside the Council’s legislative mandate.

Charamut said that the focus should not only be on individuals but should be on industry too. Chair Merrow said that to be effective, the report must be widely read. Expanding into social media is an important adjustment that should be made. Ms. Masino said that a printed version of the Annual Report would be of value as well.

Chair Merrow thanked Ms. Masino for bringing her knowledge and recommendations to the Council.

Staff Report

Hearn said he had been asked by a member of Governor-elect Lamont’s Transition Team what the Council believed to be the environmental priorities for the incoming administration.

Since the Council had not had such a discussion, he referred to items that had appeared in prior reports or recommendations made by the Council. He recommended improved on-line reporting and automated screening of submissions to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). He said the Department of Public Health has developed software that reviews monitoring results and flags violations. He also recommended expanding staff in DEEP and referenced the Pesticide Report that documented a decline in productivity that was associated with loss of personnel.

He said he had participated in two panel discussions that were on WSHU radio concerning climate change.

Citizen Complaints

Hearn said that he heard from the person who had complained about plans to build a gas station near a community well in Marlborough. The issue was to be taken up by the town’s Zoning Commission. He said he would report on any developments of note.

Hearn said he had been referred a complaint that came to Dunbar regarding projects that are being conducted along transmission lines right-of-way (ROW). Using PowerPoint, he showed that there is no doubt that ROWs are likely habitat for many species that are rare, endangered, threatened or of special concern. They are often comprised of successional and emergent forestland and often cross wetlands. He said that Eversource has two projects that are going on simultaneously. One is the replacement of deteriorating wooden transmission towers. The other is the mandated clearing of trees from the ROW, to prevent a recurrence of the outages seen in the 2011 October snowstorm. The Siting Council has jurisdiction over the tower reconstructions, but has no jurisdiction when it comes to maintenance activities. Hall said she did not see the connection between tree clearing and power outages. Hearn said the October storm report was full of pictures of trees down on transmission lines. Kolesinskas said that there are two different lines. The transmission tower replacements are for higher voltage. They are taller and would probably not be affected by tree falls. He said all access improvement and widening will have an impact on forest-edge species.

Charamut said that Audubon Connecticut and other groups have been concerned about the project. She suggested that all the concerned groups should discuss and coordinate.

Dunbar made a number of points. He said that many landowners, over whose land the ROWs run, might be pleased to see the widening and “hardening” of the road under the transmission lines, if it provides improved access for them. They will need to be educated about the ecological consequences. Kolesinskas said improved access for them will also mean improved access for ATV riders. There should be a forum to discuss all the downsides. Vidich said it should be made known if herbicides are being used to suppress vegetation because of potential harm to water or to beneficial plants. Merrow summarized the sense of the Council that this information about the project that has been assembled by the Council should be shared with all the concerned groups.

Dunbar and Kolesinskas said that if the DEEP staff who work on inquiries about the Natural Diversity Data Base need additional help, DEEP should consider sharing staff from other sections where there is crossover. Kolesinskas said there might be a need for a forum on how to manage ROWs. Chair Merrow said that many of these discussion points should be framed as questions for the Siting Council, and should be taken up again at a future meeting.

State Agency Actions

a. Siting Council Petition No.1352


Hearn reported that at the last meeting, there was a short discussion about a solar energy project in Enfield that would consume many acres and involve extensive regrading and soil removal. It is one of the projects that were “grandfathered” under PA 17-218. Consequently, the Council took no action. He said that the town has asked for a public hearing, which has been scheduled for January 10. He will inform the Council what comes of the hearing.

b. ROD for Ridgefield Sewer Project

Hearn said that the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) rejected the Record of Decision (ROD) for a sewer project in Ridgefield, because it extended into a drinking water watershed. He said the project was reduced in scope to exclude that area and the ROD was approved. 

c. New CEPA Regulations

Hearn said the Regulations Review Committee met yesterday and rejected the proposed revisions to the regulations for the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). He said the rejection was “without prejudice”, so they can be modified and resubmitted. The rejected text was just posted before the meeting, so there has not been time to read it. Chair Merrow asked that the text be sent to all.

d. PURA decision on Connecticut Water Company Acquisition,

Hearn said that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) rejected the proposal by San Jose Water Group (SJWG) to acquire the Connecticut Water Company (CTWC). He said that PURA left open the possibility of reconsidering if SJWG can present new evidence that had not been considered. Using PowerPoint he showed the reasons for the rejection and the response from SJWG. Hall said she would like to know if the SJWG response kept open the record for filings by other interested parties. Charamut said that PURA’s rejection was published as a “draft” decision and consequently, the record might not have closed. A short discussion followed on some of the provisions of the proposed merger and of the reasons for the rejection.

e. Connecticut Water Plan

Charamut reported that the Water Planning Council (WPC) had come to an understanding that issues which come before PURA can be discussed at the WPC, provided that members of the WPC who also are part of PURA recuse themselves.

Workload Management

Hearn reported that the vacancy for an Environmental Analyst has been posted on the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) website. He said that DAS does an initial screening and sends on to the Council those applicants who have met the minimum requirements. He said the DAS website does not have a provision for attaching a writing sample or letters of recommendation. He expects a separate request will be made of the candidates for those.

Chair Merrow asked Hearn to read the exit review that Rafal Szacilowski had submitted when he left the Council’s internship. Hearn read Rafal’s description of how he learned, during the internship, how much he enjoyed doing data analysis. Hearn reported that Rafal plans to explore career opportunities in analysis.

Other Business

Merrow read aloud a proclamation she had drafted acknowledging the important role Janet Brooks had performed while on the Council and expressing gratitude for her dedication and hard work. It stated "The Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality extends its sincere gratitude to Janet Brooks for exemplary service to the Council and to Connecticut's environment.  During a decade on the Council, Janet helped see us through good times and bad with her calm demeanor, legal expertise, knowledge of Connecticut environmental history, and principled approach to issues. She will be greatly missed.  We wish her all the best as she continues to advocate for our environment."

Dunbar made a motion to approve that proclamation as written, which was seconded by unanimous acclaim.

The meeting was adjourned at 11:35 AM