Save the Sound’s Legislative Session Wrap-Up

One of the most unusual sessions in memory has also proven one of the most momentous for Connecticut’s environment, with substantial victories for public health, clean water, and resiliency, as well as missed opportunities on climate action. Many of these important bills originated in the Environment Committee, and we thank co-chairs Senator Christine Cohen and Representative Joe Gresko for their tireless efforts, along with every legislator, advocate, and Connecticut resident who have dedicated their time and energy over the last five months ensuring a healthier and more just environment.

SAVE THE SOUND PRIORITY BILLS

This year the legislature approved multiple bills protecting communities from water pollution and climate impacts.

Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper at Save the Sound, on HB 6441 An Act Concerning Climate Change Adaptation:

“Connecticut towns and cities deserve tools to proactively address future flooding and rising sea levels—not just emergency funds after the damage is already done. HB 6441 gives shoreline and inland communities a toolbox for climate resiliency and clean water. Finally, any municipality that wants to will be able to create a stormwater authority to support critical clean water infrastructure upgrades, encourage green infrastructure like rain gardens, and help meet state stormwater management rules. There’s a reason we’ve been fighting for that right for a decade, and it’s because the community benefits of clean water are crystal clear! However, it’s disappointing that the option to establish a local conveyance fee program was removed; it could have leveraged other private and federal dollars for climate adaptation and resilience projects, and supported land stewardship, tree planting, and other community projects.”

Kat Fiedler, staff attorney at Save the Sound, on SB 927 An Act Concerning Revisions to the Sewage Spillage Right-to-Know Statute:

“Everyone deserves clean water, and everyone deserves to know right away if their water isn’t clean. Far too often, there have been sewage spills into our rivers that downstream residents only hear about days later—after they’ve been fishing in that river or taken their kids swimming at a nearby beach. That’s why it was so critical this year to ensure real, timely public notice in Connecticut’s Sewage Right to Know Act. It’s going to dramatically improve accountability and protect public health. We deeply appreciate of the focused efforts of environmental champions and allies to get important measures like this passed during this unique and challenging legislative session.”

Things were less sunny for climate mitigation and clean air policies.

Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy attorney at Save the Sound, on HB 6551 An Act Concerning Environmental Air Quality:

“Despite the clear climate goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act, Connecticut continues to permit new sources of localized polluting emissions—adding to already poor air quality and continuing fossil fuel dependence. Rather than moving us closer to our goals, the House of Representatives has failed to move urgently on establishing procedures to hold all sectors accountable to reduce carbon emissions. We must ensure that all arms of the government are supporting Connecticut’s climate and environmental goals to achieve a healthy and prosperous future for all. This fight for climate justice is far from over.”

On HB 6551, Staff Attorney Kat Fiedler added: “For too long, low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately suffered from the environmental and health hazards created by trash incinerators, power plants, and other polluting facilities. Our team looked to build on previous efforts to strengthen Connecticut’s Environmental Justice Law by changing the permitting process that allows additional polluting sources in these communities. HB 6551 would have required that environmental permitting decisions actually take into account existing environmental and public health burdens and deny permits in already overburdened communities. We urge DEEP to commence a study to quantify health disparities and environmental injustices throughout the state. This will set us on the path to swiftly implementing the health-protecting procedural changes that we will push for next session.”

The biggest disappointment of this year’s regular session was the failure of the legislature to pass SB 884 An Act Reducing Transportation-Related Carbon Emissions, or to include the Transportation and Climate Initiative in the budget. Climate and Energy Attorney Charles Rothenberger said:

“TCI is the most significant climate legislation before the General Assembly in a decade and is supported by a large majority of Connecticut’s residents. We know there are champions for TCI in both the House and Senate, so it’s been disappointing to see legislative leadership fail to take the action that’s urgently needed to address transportation pollution. TCI includes a commitment to prioritize investment in the urban and rural communities that need relief from air pollution and need better transportation access most. We’re heartened by reports that legislative leaders are open to running TCI in a special session later this month. That would go a long way to demonstrating seriousness about the climate crisis, and concern for the heath of Connecticut’s residents.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS IN THE STATE BUDGET AND BONDING

Leah Lopez Schmalz, chief program officer at Save the Sound, on HB 6689: AN ACT CONCERNING THE STATE BUDGET… and HB 6690 AN ACT AUTHORIZING AND ADJUSTING BONDS OF THE STATE…

“With these two bills, Connecticut residents will see cleaner water and communities will have access to nature-based solutions that can protect them from climate change-induced flooding and sea level rise.

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of all legislators working to secure a better environmental future, but we especially would like to thank Representative Dorinda Borer, along with Senator Moore, Senator Fonfara, and Representative Scanlon, for their tireless work on critical bonding. HB 6690 authorizes $200 million in grants and $518 million in loans for sewage treatment upgrades, green infrastructure, and other clean water efforts. It also allows for up to $25 million in grants for an improved microgrid and resilience program, designed to help municipalities not only strengthen energy grid reliability, but also implement marsh migration, living shoreline, and other natural solutions that can help them weather future storms. These funds, along with the increase in transit funds—like more than $430 million in bus operations, expansion of CTFastrak and Bus Rapid Transit on Rt. 1, and transit-rider support like real-time location information—position the state to capitalize on significant federal funds.

“HB 6689 provides $5 million to the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation to continue the research, project implementation, and support all cities and towns need, as well as funds to improve technical capabilities for the improved Sewage Right to Know Act. However, funding for Department of Energy and Environmental Protection staffing remains low while demands, like preparing for the ‘silver tsunami,’ increase.  Sadly, the appropriations bill appears to have left out the West River in New Haven, a partnership of Save the Sound, Solar Youth, Gather New Haven, and Common Ground High School providing hands-on-learning learning through water quality monitoring, trail maintenance, and invasive species removal that benefit New Haven’s ecosystem.”

MORE WINS FOR PUBLIC HEALTH, CLEAN WATER, AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES

Soundkeeper Bill Lucey, on HJ 53 Resolution Proposing the Adoption of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan:

“This was a remarkable effort at reaching out to all parties and integrating their interests, as shown by the overwhelming bipartisan support through the General Assembly. It’s clear that all Connecticut residents care about the Sound’s water quality, wildlife, fisheries and sustenance of water-related industries. The Blue Plan is a tool for problem-solvers, plain and simple.”

Alex Rodriguez, climate advocate at Save Sound, on SB 1037 An Act Concerning Solid Waste Management: “For the first time since 2009, the list of returnable beverage cans and bottles will grow in 2023, and the redemption rate will increase in 2024. Many sports drinks, bottled teas, and juices that were not previously accepted by bottle redemption centers soon will be. The increased bottle redemption rate to ten cents will help to stabilize the financial health of the redemption and recycling system. Expanded coverage of beverage containers will incentivize Connecticut residents to reduce litter. The passage of SB 1037, the Bottle Bill, is a huge win for our state.”

Gwen Macdonald, director of ecological restoration at Save the Sound, on SB 700 An Act Concerning the Disclosure of Dams and Similar Structures by Sellers of Real Property:

“We tend to think of dams as big and obvious, but thousands of properties across Connecticut are dotted with old dams that blend right into the landscape. Property owners are liable for resulting damage if those dams fail, and many of them don’t even know it. With the passage of SB 700, the presence of a registered dam must be included on real estate disclosure forms. We hope this transparency will encourage more property owners to have derelict dams removed, reopening free-flowing streams and fish habitat across our state!”

Chris Kelly, legal fellow at Save the Sound, on HB 6107 An Act Concerning the Zoning Enabling Act…:

“Outdated and inefficient land use practices have pushed destructive development into our natural spaces and imposed barriers on more climate-friendly lifestyles. HB 6107 recognizes the need to modernize our zoning laws and develop best practices that will serve both our communities and our natural environment. We support these common-sense land use reforms. Training requirements and new language to identify environmental impacts will ensure commissioners can make better-informed zoning decisions, and eliminating unreasonable parking requirements will help curtail harmful sprawl. Work remains to identify smart policies that direct development away from greenspaces and towards vibrant transit hubs, but this bill has started a productive conversation.” 

Climate and Energy Attorney Charles Rothenberger on SB 951 An Act Concerning Energy Storage:

“We applaud the passage of SB 952. This bill (1) establishes energy storage goals of 300 megawatts by 2024, 650 MW by 2027, and 1,000 MW by 2030, (2) directs the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to initiate a proceeding to develop and implement programs to support energy storage resources, and (3) authorizes DEEP to issue Requests for Proposals to meet the energy storage goals.”

Climate Advocate Alex Rodriguez on SB 356 An Act Establishing an Energy Efficiency Retrofit Grant Program for Affordable Housing:

“Health and safety barriers such as lead and asbestos pose significant barriers to many Connecticut residents pursuing energy efficiency upgrades. Improving energy efficiency in homes lowers household energy costs, reduces the need for new generation sources, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector. Removing health and safety barriers means we can equitably provide access to the benefits of the state’s energy efficiency programs to all of Connecticut’s households. Save the Sound applauds passage of the bill and looks forward to the Governor signing it.”

Staff Attorney Kat Fiedler on SB 924 An Act Concerning the Staffing and Resources of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection:

“The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will experience unprecedented retirements in 2022 that will threaten its ability to perform its core responsibility of consistently and fairly enforcing laws that protect our environment, public health, and quality of life. SB 924 is just one step to ensure that this retirement cliff does not also become an environmental cliff by requiring a study of the impacts of these retirements, as well as the existing strains on resources that DEEP is already operating under. The legislature needs to understand these impacts to best support the resource needs of the agency and to stave off environmental roll-backs that seek to capitalize on resource constraints. The public must be informed of where the agency might fall short in order to advocate for effective solutions or to fill the gaps through citizen enforcement.”

Soundkeeper Bill Lucey on SB 929 An Act Concerning Penalties for the Taking of Striped Bass, and SB 840 An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Shellfish Restoration Program, the Connecticut Seafood Council and the Taxation of Certain Underwater Farmlands:

“Properly managing our aquatic resources keeps Connecticut’s economy and ecosystems strong and supporting each other. Streamlining the regulations for striped bass fishing simplifies things for fishermen and frees up DEEP enforcement so they have more time on the water protecting our resources instead of in a courtroom. SB 840 helps to protect our working waterfront by providing shellfish harvesters similar tax credits as farmers while clarifying policies that make it easier for the Department of Agriculture to restore shellfish beds that not only provide locally-grown food but also help clean our water and return the Sound’s ecosystem to its historical abundance.”

Soundkeeper Bill Lucey on SB 837 An Act Concerning the Use of Perfluoralkyl of Polyflouroalkyl Substances in Class B Firefighting Foam:

“The fact that both the Senate and House votes were unanimous shows just how aware people are becoming of the threats PFAS pose to human health. One of the wells providing water to my son’s elementary school is contaminated by the fire station across the street. This problem is real. We need to keep this chemical out of our seafood and drinking water, and the General Assembly’s action this week is an important step in achieving that.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES AND UNFINISHED BUSINESS ON CLIMATE ACTION AND SUSTAINABILITY

Climate and Energy Attorney Charles Rothenberger on SB 882 An Act Concerning Climate Change Mitigation and Home Energy Affordability:

“This bill would have codified Governor Lamont’s Executive Order requirement to achieve a zero-carbon electric supply for Connecticut by 2040. This bill also required landlords to either provide a Home Energy Label or provide data to potential tenants regarding a rental unit’s electricity and heating costs. While the disclosure measures were less robust than those in the original bill and there was concern about not including in-state generation within the scope of the 100% net zero requirements, both elements of the bill would have advanced the state’s climate and energy goals, so it’s unfortunate it didn’t get a vote.”

Climate and Energy Attorney Charles Rothenberger on SB 931 An Act Concerning Emissions Standards for Medium and Heavy Duty Vehicles:

To improve the state’s air quality and better protect the health of its citizens, Connecticut has already adopted California’s emission standards for light-duty vehicles. This bill would have directed Connecticut to determine the energy, environmental, and air quality impacts of adopting California medium and heavy duty vehicle standards, as well. If DEEP determined that the standards are necessary to meet federal air quality standards or the state’s greenhouse gas reduction requirements, the bill authorized DEEP to then adopt them. It is disappointing SB 931 did not receive a vote in the House.”

Climate and Energy Attorney Charles Rothenberger on SB 127 An Act Concerning the Sale of Electric Vehicles in the State:

“Passage of SB 127 would have permitted Connecticut consumers to purchase electric vehicle directly from manufacturers. This bill had great potential to advance economic recovery, while meeting the state’s climate and electric vehicle goals. We are disappointed that the bill was not able to overcome the opposition of the state’s legacy automobile dealerships.”

Leah Schmalz
Chief program officer
Save the Sound

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