2014 Legislative Session: A Good Year for Water Resources
An off-again-on-again political stalemate prevailed from early in the session into the final days (during which legislators, incredibly, spent many leisurely hours honoring departing colleagues). Senate President Donald Williams and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey -- both Democrats -- were not on speaking terms most of the session. The traditional tension between the two chambers was dramatically exacerbated by a clash between Sen. Williams and Rep. Sharkey over GMOs (see below).
Democratic leadership left most of the important work to the very end, thus handing their otherwise weak opponents, the Republicans, the powerful weapon of the filibuster. Republicans gained considerable control over the pace and content of the final bills by threatening to keep talking on them until time ran out (midnight May 7). Much of the battling involved environmental bills. This not only kept our issues in the spotlight, it was a sign of wide recognition among legislators and the administration that protecting natural resources is an imperative in responsible public service.
A lot happened on the last day of the legislative session, and most of it was good for water resources. Here's a summary of the session, with the emphasis on water. The first four bills discussed below were high priorities for Rivers Alliance.
State Water Planning. Extensive negotiations involving legislators, water utilities, environmental groups, and state agencies produced an agreed-upon bill that passed the House in April and finally crossed the finish line in the Senate with a few hours to spare. The bill, which is now Public Act No. 14-163 (An Act Concerning the Responsibilities of the Water Planning Council), sets up a lengthy, convoluted process for creating a state water plan. However, it represents an important consensus at last among legislators and state officials, including the governor, that Connecticut does need a statewide plan to manage our highly valuable water resources for the benefit of all.
The issue shot into public consciousness following a controversy over a proposed diversion of water from the Farmington River watershed in the Hartford area all the way to UConn in Storrs. Rep. John Hampton of Simsbury led the charge against that diversion and in favor of the water planning bill. The surest sign that the state is serious about water planning is that there is $250,000 in the budget for it.
Protections for State-owned Conservation Lands. Public Act 14-169 aims to better protect state forests, parks, wildlife preserves, and other public lands from takeovers by towns, developers, or other persons. It made it through the House late in the afternoon of the last day. The purpose of the bill is to reduce the vulnerability of state-owned, open-space lands to takeovers. Almost none of the state conservation lands have any legal safeguard against being removed from state ownership via the legislatureâ€™s annual Conveyance Act or by other means.
In 2013, a broad coalition formed and worked with Environment Committee Chairs Sen. Ed Meyer and Rep. Linda Gentile, the governorâ€™s office, and DEEP to create a bill that 1) provided that any conveyance of land in DEEP's custody would have to go to a public hearing in the Environment Committee; 2) explicitly stated that DEEP has the authority to place easements or other conservation restrictions on its lands; and 3) directed DEEP, as DEEP desired, to create a registry of state lands that are most important for public use and benefit.
To the dismay of Sen. Meyer and open-space advocates, the provision for public hearings had to be deleted because of authoritative warnings that a bill with this provision would have no chance in the House, where the Conveyance Act usually originates. But the clarification of DEEP's authority to place conservation restrictions on lands in its custody is vital to land protection and is a major step forward. It reverses a long-standing DEEP position that it does not have any such authority except on certain donated lands.
The lands registry established under this law is not a true legal barrier to state-land takeovers; but even so, it is a valuable program that will make it much easier for DEEP to defend its most highly rated properties. The bill also extends similar protections to agricultural lands.
The lead groups working on this issue were Rivers Alliance, Connecticut Land Conservation Council, Connecticut Forest & Park Association, and Sierra Club - Connecticut Chapter. This coalition will continue to press the case for more secure protection for public lands.
Pesticides and GMOs. Not good news here. Once again, all efforts to reduce kids' exposure to lawn and turf chemicals at schools and other public places failed. (Currently, there is a ban on use of these pesticides at schools through 8th grade.) Of course, these same products harm aquatic resources and wildlife.
Reportedly the votes were there to pass the one good pesticides bill that made it through to the final week, but opponents threatened to talk (filibuster) it to death.
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are linked to pesticide use because most frequently the modification is aimed at making a plant that will thrive in the presence of one or more pesticides. Early in the session, reacting to news that agribusiness is planning to introduce GMO grass seed, Senate President Don Williams proposed an amendment to one of the pesticide bills to ban this GMO. The GMO grass would be immune to the effects of glyphosate (in Roundup and related compounds); therefore, it could be maintained in emerald-perfect, monoculture condition by soaking in glyphosate.
Pro-pesticide legislators expressed outrage that Sen. Williams had put the ban in the form of an amendment that did not require a public hearing. Numerous legislators (including House Republican Leader Larry Cafero) protested that the public-hearing process is the foundation of fair and wise legislation. Probably so, but it is a process that is ignored every session, even on extremely important measures. In fact, legislators have resisted all reform efforts to require public hearings on bills. Still, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey was so offended by the Williams amendment that he initiated a rules change to allow the Senateâ€™s GMO grass bill to be raised first in the House and killed. Thus began the war of the chambers (House and Senate) and the series of stalemates that lasted until the session ended.
Fracking Waste. This was the most complex and emotional of the environmental issues this session. Hydro-fracking is a process for using high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals to fracture rock and release oil and gas.
Hydro-fracking for natural gas is particularly productive in Marcellus shale, present in Pennsylvania (where extensive hydrofracking is underway), in New York (where hydro-fracking may begin this year), and in a number of other states. The U.S. is so rich in fuel from hydrofracking that we are suddenly on the verge of energy independence.
Connecticut energy policy under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is highly reliant on obtaining and distributing more natural gas, which is relatively cheap and burns relatively clean. But hydrofracking also wastes and contaminates huge quantities of water (5 million gallons per well), and is producing billions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste annually. In New England, New York, and New Jersey state lawmakers and towns are considering or have adopted bans on importing fracking waste. This year, Connecticut followed suit. With strong popular support, the Environment Committee raised a bill banning fracking waste. DEEP backed a bill regulating fracking waste. (No one offered a bill welcoming fracking waste, but advocates for that position gained strength as time went on.)
A tug of war ensued between proponents of fairly permissive regulation and proponents of a ban or very strict, limited regulation. The latter group of proponents included a coalition of some dozen environmental and health groups and many legislators. Ed Meyer was the leader in the Senate and James Albis led in the House. Almost from day one, the enviro/health team had to give ground if they wanted a bill. The ban became a three-year moratorium on any importation of fracking waste into Connecticut. Enviros hoped that the moratorium would be used to study the issue and that any decision about letting in the waste would be postponed until the study was complete. For a time, proposed language seemed to provide (somewhat ambiguously) for this two-step process, but then new language stipulated that regulations would have to be written by a certain date.
Almost all parties also sought to delete a reference in Connecticut regulations that incorporates a dreadful federal exemption for fracking waste, removing it from the definition of hazardous waste; in other words, even if a load of fracking waste is totally lethal, it cannot be treated as hazardous. The deletion of this exemption could have been done immediately but has been postponed to the time when regulations are written.
The final change, sought by Sen. Len Fasano, altered the premise that all fracking would have to be treated as hazardous and opened the door for DEEP to treat at least some fracking waste as non-hazardous. When this change appeared, the coalition of enviros and health advocates formally registered opposition to the bill (up to then, members had been supportive or silent). But the bill, now approved by both parties, was on its way to passage. It offered opportunity for one final extortionist stroke: Rep. Craig Miner threatened to talk the clock down to zero unless the House and Senate approved a bill to allow, under certain circumstances, Connecticut fishing of glass eels (transparent baby eels that are being fished to near extinction to satisfy Japanâ€™s voracious demand for this "delicacy").
The stories, of course, are not over. As soon as the fracking waste bill passed with only minutes to spare, supporters and opponents of bringing fracking waste into Connecticut were gearing up to renew the battle. Subsequently, defenders of glass eels persuaded the governor to veto the glass eels bill. The fate of the eels will be decided this summer by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Other Good Environmental News. The governor asked for and will get $2 million in bonding to help save The Preserve, a rare thousand-acre coastal forest located in Old Saybrook and Essex; Trust for Public Land was one of the lead negotiators. (Note, $2 million will be deducted from general open-space funding.) A bill to require natural gas distributors to plug leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, squeaked through. Progress in the right direction was made on outdoor wood-burning furnaces, tree trimming, recycling, and collection of unused pharmaceuticals (rather than flushing them). A bill to do away with public hearings on subdivision applications quietly died after an extraordinary public outcry. No bill eliminating the Council on Environmental Quality was raised this session!
Not So Good. A bill to allow for shared, community solar installations failed. The Blue Plan for protecting Long Island Sound failed on the House calendar for lack of time. Bills to reduce children's exposure to toxic chemicals died.
All in all, we can celebrate in moderation.
Important Environmental Legislation 20144
From the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters
Environmental issues are heating up!
Have you been urging your legislators to take a pro-environment stand this session?
CTLCV has been working hard to keep environmental issues on the front burner at the state legislature. Below is the list of bills we have been tracking for the upcoming 2014 Environmental Scorecard. We are very excited to announce that all of these bills have been moved out of their committees of origin and are awaiting the next set of votes.
Connecticut League of Conservation Voters
553 Farmington Ave., Suite 201
Hartford, CT 06105
State Rep. Roberta Willis has always been a champion of pro-health, pro-environment causes. Here is her statement re fracking waste.
Why I Support SB 237: An Act Prohibiting 'Fracking' Waste in Connecticut
All the best,
Legislative Information from Rivers Alliance
The legislature is currently considering bills, holding hearings, and engaging in negotiations on several critical environmental issues. On all these issues, we will do follow-up emails and post news and alerts on our website www.riversalliance.org. Our telephone is 860-361-9349. The CT Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (CTNOFA) also has a good run down at https://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/4889121/1997569357/name/Take+Action%2C+March+2014.pdf
Hydrofracturing (“fracking” for short) is the process of extracting natural gas and oil by using water and a cocktail of chemicals to fracture open tight seams in underground rock formations where natural gas is held. The returned waste water (billions of gallons annually in the U.S.) is contaminated with the original toxic chemicals (including carcinogens), radioactive materials, metals, and intense concentrations of salts. Treatment of this water may yield a harmful brine and a sludge. Disposing of this waste safely is a complex problem not yet solved (or possibly not solvable).
Pennsylvania and New York have large deposits of Marcellus shale, which holds natural gas. Given the shale’s proximity to Connecticut, we can expect efforts to dispose of waste here, for example, in deep wells, landfills, on sites needing fill, or on roads to melt ice. Three bills have been introduced to regulate or ban fracking waste inConnecticut. The one most protective of health and the environment is an outright ban proposed in SB 237 AAC Prohibiting the Storage or Disposal of Fracking Waste in Connecticut.
Another bill is HB 5308, AAC the Regulation of Fracking Waste. This is a step in the right direction, but given the state’s limited regulatory resources and the danger to health and the environment, an outright ban is preferable. There is also a bill in the Energy and Technology Committee, HB 5409, which also calls for heightened regulation of fracking waste. __________________________________________________________________
This will be an especially important year for pesticide legislation. DEEP has commissioned a study that will be available soon. Here are two good bills:
HB-5330 AN ACT CONCERNING THE APPLICATION OF PESTICIDES AT PARKS, PLAYGROUNDS, ATHLETIC FIELDS AND MUNICIPAL GREENS is in the Public Health Committee.
SB-46 AN ACT CONCERNING PESTICIDES ON SCHOOL GROUNDS is in the Children’s Committee.
We’ll keep you posted.
PROTECTING STATE-OWNED CONSERVATION LANDS
Many of you have already submitted testimony for SB 70 in Environment -- or have signed on to ours. Thank you. We are creating an email group for those who have expressed interest. Meanwhile, everything is up in the air, and negotiations are expected to get underway next week. We’ll be in touch, but feel free to call or email questions.
STATE WATER PLANNING
We have a bill! HB 5424 AAC The Responsibilities of the Water Planning Council.
It’s promising. Will keep you posted. Again, feel free to call or email.
Last Year's Legislation Reporting from Rivers Alliance
Rivers Alliance Crystal Ball for the 2014 Legislative Session
We predict that
2013 Legislative Session
This legislative session hit a new high in confusion, with good and bad measures tangled together.
Bill 1138, AAC (An Act Concerning) Connecticut's Clean Energy Goals ping-ponged between the House and the Senate, as environmental advocates sounded alarms because it rolled back the stateï¿½s commitment to the development of clean sources of electricity. Although the bill was improved prior to passage, it still threatens Connecticut rivers because it allows even the most destructive hydropower to be sold in the upscale market for Class I energy sources. The ONLY hydropower deserving Class I status is verifiably low-impact hydropower. Good aspects of the bill are that it strengthened the definition of of Class I hydropower; it provides for long-term procurement contracts for clean energy while federal incentives are still in place; and it removes from Class I some dirty biomass plants.
Pesticide bills were in a three-way race, with pro-pesticide forces trying to roll back the state's partial ban on lawn-care pesticides at schools, anti-pesticides enviros seeking to extend this kind of ban to protect more children, and others (including DEEP) trying to set up a task force to study health effects of pesticides. In the final days, the stand-off continued, and once again no action was taken to broaden the protection for children exposed to these toxins. Up to now, the most effective advocacy has been to limit use of lawn-care pesticides in schools. This is fairly feeble considering the scientific and medical findings on the dangers of these substances. (Note, pesticides include herbicides.)
Fracking bills also started in a three-way race, but the one most protective of water resources fell behind early. That good bill followed the Vermont model and put a moratorium on fracking and acceptance of fracking waste until safe practices are developed. Back in Connecticut, a bill banning fracking waste look poised to win, but fell short due mainly to opposition from DEEP, where enthusiasm for natural gas runs high.
GMO labeling passed the Senate in a bipartisan insurgency against hiding the chemicalization and bio-manipulation of people's food. The bill required eventual labeling of genetically modified organisms in food. When the bill arrived in the House, legislators, reportedly spurred on by the governor, added an array of hurdles and hoops. Eventually a compromise was reached, and Connecticut has become the first state to pass a GMO-labeling measure. Rivers Alliance cares about GMOs because GMO crops are created to be immune to certain pesticides, which are then applied lavishly to kill everything else in the neighborhood. The US Geological Survey has concluded that pesticides are in all the nation's streams. The same mega-corporate interests that support lawn-care pesticides on nursery school grounds, and aquatic pesticides in swim ponds, want to be sure that agricultural fields can be adequately sterilized by pesticides so that only their genetically modified crops can grow there.
Good Bills That Passed
Mattress Recycling: No more pulling mattresses our of rivers.
Water Conservation Rates: The bill puts a floor (and a ceiling) on water-company revenues to encourage conservation and infrastructure investment. This is basically the decoupling of revenues from a tight link to quantities sold. It was supposed to happen with energy a while back, but policy makers are trying for that again this year.
The Haddam Land Swap was repealed in the Conveyance Act (hurrah!), but a couple of unfortunate conveyances went forward. Rivers Alliance as a member of the State Lands Working Group is looking forward to moving land-conservation reforms forward next year.
Land and Water programs benefitted from a continued commitment by the administration and the legislation to adequate dollars for the Clean Water Fund and land conservation programs.
Next year is going to be even more challenging. The stateï¿½s economy is not where it should be. Election pressures that were highly influential this session may be more so next session. However, recognition that we cannot afford to continue to waste our environmental capital seems to be widening. The better angels of our nature may prevail.
For material published by Rivers Alliance during the Legislative session, please see our Archive page at http://www.riversalliance.org/legislation/legislationarchive2013.htm
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut