Minutes of the meeting of the February 27, 2019 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, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Jackson Ruprecht (Environmental Intern), Matt Pafford (OPM), Lance Hansen (DEEP), David Kalafa.

At 9:33 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there were any additions or modifications to the meeting agenda. There were none. Charamut made a motion to approve the agenda. It was seconded by Dunbar and approved by all.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the January 23, 2019 meeting. There were none. Dunbar moved to approve. This was seconded by Vidich and approved by all.

Chair Merrow said the new face at the table is Jackson Ruprecht, an Environmental Intern from Trinity College who will be assisting the Council this semester. She asked him to introduce himself and describe his interests and what he is working on. Mr. Ruprecht said he is a senior who is majoring in Environmental Policy and Philosophy. He said he is appreciative of the opportunity afforded by the internship since, if he works in the environmental field, he would like to work on policy issues like those which the Council deals with.

Chair Merrow asked the observer in the audience if he had come to the Council to make a presentation. He introduced himself as David Kalafa, retired Undersecretary of the Office of Policy and Management. He said he is interested in the work of the Council and came to observe.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said that Keith Ainsworth had been informed by the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives that his nomination to the Council is in the vetting stage. She said there is also interest in the other recent vacancy on the Council.

She said that she participated in the interviews of the twelve finalists for the vacant Environmental Analyst position. She said the twelve were chosen from sixty-one, who initially applied. She noted the very high caliber of those who were interviewed and the difficulty choosing among them. Hilding thanked Chair Merrow for her efforts in the process.

Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow said that an expected speaker has not appeared, and time can be made later in the meeting if she arrives.

Staff Report

a. CEQ Appropriation

Hearn said that because the Council is no longer funded from the General Fund, it did not appear as a line item in the Governor’s Budget. This prompted many emails and calls to the Council by people concerned that the Council had lost its funding. He confirmed with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that there is a budget for the Council within the Passport to Parks Fund. He said the Appropriations Committee had scheduled the Council to testify regarding its budget. The Committee's staff recommended submitting written testimony, in lieu of a personal appearance, considering the Council’s small budget and the fact that it is not funded out of the General Fund.

In response to a question from Dunbar about the Council’s funding level and how it will be spent, Hearn said he confirmed with DEEP that the funding is set at the same level as in 2018. He was told that it will be maintained at that level, with increases in fringe benefits and salaries as appropriate. Charamut expressed concern that the staff positions, though funded, might not be within State Service. She said that the Conservation Districts are also funded by the Passport to Parks and none of their staff are in the State Service. Hearn said he is certain this is not the case, but will ask for assurance that the present structure will not change.

b. Status of EA2 Hiring

Hearn said that the Council’s representative from Human Resources has been out sick for most of the time since the interviews of the Environmental Analyst candidates. Consequently, the steps to bring on the new analyst were delayed but are expected to resume this week. 

Citizen Complaints and Inquiries

a. Siting of Solar Energy Facilities

Hearn said that a complaint had been received regarding Connecticut Siting Council Petition #1354. He briefly reviewed objections that had been raised about the proposed siting, that were pointed out by opponents and by DEEP’s comments on the proposal. The objections include the fact that it would be located entirely in core forest, wetland buffers are insufficient and it will likely negatively affect species listed in the State’s Natural Diversity Database as probably present. He said that this is one more example of problematic sitings of solar facilities. Concerns include the high number of cease and desist orders associated with improper clearing of fields and forests for solar arrays, the possible skirting of CGS 16-50k by clearing forest land prior to a petition to construct a solar array, and the modification of Petitions to be just under the two MW threshold that triggers a mandatory determination by DEEP regarding whether the project will have a negative effect on core forest.

Vidich said that sitings are often the result of a negotiation between the Siting Council and the developer. He said that only eight towns have ordinances governing the location of solar energy installations. He said that he believes those towns will fare better in Siting Council deliberations than those that don’t, because the Siting Council is required to consider town regulations in its determinations.  He would like to see more education of town officials about this advantage.

Dunbar said it is appropriate for the Council to articulate the problems that are still arising in the siting of solar energy facilities. He said the solutions are complex and might have unintended consequences of their own. As an example he cited the two MW threshold and asked what would prevent a developer from proposing projects in one MW increments. He said the focus for renewable energy problems needs to be finding ways to say yes to solar, not to say no. Hilding advocated consulting with the Siting Council on the issue. Charamut said the topic should be discussed with the Conservation Districts too.

b. Manure Processing Complaint

Hearn said that an inquiry was received about a proposal to construct a facility that will ferment manure into a usable, odorless fertilizer. He said that one of the Council’s college interns is investigating the environmental effects of the technology. He hopes she will be able to deliver a report on it at the next Council meeting. Kolesinskas explained that farm operations are required to have a nutrient management plan. He said that some farms are introducing digesters to produce usable methane. Other questions were raised by Hilding and Dunbar regarding whether liquid waste is generated and what percentage of nutrients and toxics are left after the fermentation. Hearn said that these questions are the subject of the intern’s research. He said that DEEP has not issued a permit for the facility but has held a pre-permit conference with the developer to discuss a “beneficial use” solid waste permit.

Review of State Agency Actions

a. Siting Council Petition # 1354

Hearn said that recommendations regarding this will be addressed in the larger report on Siting of Solar facilities expected at the next meeting.

b. DECD submissions to the Environmental Monitor

Hearn said that newly hired staff at state agencies has required him to provide tutoring on how to submit projects to the Environmental Monitor. In the process he learned that if an agency retains a computer that runs on Windows Eight, many of the time-consuming editing problems do not appear.

Workload Management and Status of Environmental Analyst Position

Hearn said that the two Trinity College interns have begun working. They have been given assignments and are producing good work.

He said that he does not yet know when reference checks on the prospective hires for Environmental Analyst will be completed and, consequently, when an employment offer can be made.

Other Business

a. New Bills

Hearn asked Charamut to report on Bill 6637, because she has been following it closely. Charamut reported that it would fund removal and eradication efforts against invasive aquatic plants by requiring a stamp or sticker to operate a motor vessel on Connecticut’s inland waters. Hearn said, at the moment, it is unclear if the stamp would be associated with the vessel itself or with the vessel operator. Some of the revenue raised from the stamps would be used as matching grants to communities interested in sponsoring eradication projects. Charamut said that it would be best if nonprofit organizations, which now sponsor such activities, could also receive matching funds. She said that discussion of this bill will alert the public to the urgency of the issue. Dunbar warned that this proposal will engender much opposition. Charamut said that marina operators and boaters might think this to be an imposition now, but if invasives, like water chestnut, take hold they will wish they had acted. Dunbar said that throughout Florida, where invasive plants are a significant problem, they are controlled with Roundup because of its effectiveness. Connecticut’s strict rules regarding drinking water sources preclude some of the approaches used elsewhere. Chair Merrow said that this is an important issue that will need to be taken up at a future meeting.

Hearn continued with a summary of bills that have been introduced and that had been topics of discussion at prior Council meetings.

Bill 111 would adopt the State Water Plan, ensuring that the waters of the state continue to be defined as a public trust. Charamut and Mr. Kalafa discussed what would happen should the Bill not be made law and concluded that Governor Malloy’s Executive Order would remain in effect. Charamut said that adoption into law, however, is a foundational step for future improvements to water supply protection.

Bill 5312 would require public utilities to adhere to some specific practices when conducting vegetation clearing and trimming. Among these are: notify the town tree warden or appropriate authority that the operation will commence, notify residents, allow supervision by an arborist if the property owner requests it. Vidich and Dunbar said it is their observation that notice is already being given. Hearn said he has seen a promise of notification in documents submitted to the Siting Council. This would make the practice mandatory.

Bill 5999 explicitly states its purpose is to implement the recommendations of the Council on Environmental Quality for properly enforcing pesticide regulations. It would establish a dedicated fund for DEEP's Pesticide Program from pesticide registration fees, implement electronic reporting and record keeping, reinstate monitoring for pesticides in the environment and close the on-line loophole for obtaining restricted-use pesticides.

Hearn listed Bills that were reported by the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters to have received a joint favorable recommendation from their committees. Bill 5308 requires the State Department of Transportation to develop a management plan for vegetation along state highways that will consider, among other things, preventing invasive species and encouraging habitat for pollinators. Bill 232 requires an analysis by utilities of gas loss and development of a plan for leak reduction. Bill 5251 prohibits the trade in shark fins. Bill 753 enacts a State-wide ban on fracking waste, Bill 20 prohibits sale or possession of six species of African animals. Bill 7003 enacts a ban on the use of recycled tire rubber at municipal and school playgrounds.

Chair Merrow said that, considering the Council’s involvement in reporting on the Pesticide Program’s challenges, the pesticide bill should be closely followed. Hilding asked what steps are being taken now to enhance habitat for pollinators. Kolesinskas listed a number of steps being taken by private groups. He said the challenge is great in the face of sprawl in Connecticut and the use of pesticides outside of the state. Hilding said that she would like to see a discussion of the importance of pollinators in the Annual Report and that the Agricultural experiment station would be a good source of information. Hearn said a discussion of the issue could be incorporated in the Annual Report. Charamut said the education need is so great that a symposium on the topic would be appropriate.

Kolesinskas asked about the press report that the Department of Public Health (DPH) was deficient in enforcement at public water utilities. Hearn said he was surprised to see the report since he had been told that DPH has a system that automatically “flags” reports that have violations. Dunbar said it is his impression that DPH usually is adequately funded for its programs. Charamut said it would be interesting to determine how the charges on water bills, that are intended to fund DPH, have been used.

b. Recognition of contribution of Karyl Lee Hall

Chair Merrow said she drafted a resolution to note the resignation of Karyl Lee Hall and to acknowledge her contribution to the Council. She read the following resolution “The Council on Environmental Quality extends its sincere gratitude to Karyl Lee Hall for her years of faithful service to the mission and the work of the Council.  Her legal expertise, devotion to strong environmental principles, and unfailing good humor have been an invaluable asset to our work.  Karyl Lee will be greatly missed at our table. We know that she will continue to work hard toward a better, cleaner, more sustainable environment for all of us.”  A motion to adopt the resolution was made by Dunbar, seconded by Vidich and approved by unanimous acclamation.

There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for an adjournment motion. It was made by Charamut and seconded by Kolesinskas and approved by all. The meeting adjourned at 11:50 AM.