With Connecticut’s spring 2020 legislative session disrupted by the pandemic, state lawmakers reconvened in special session at the end of September to conduct time-sensitive business.
We identified three key environmental priorities for that session: updating the state’s outdated system for environmental cleanup, making the electric grid cleaner and more resilient, and strengthening Connecticut’s Environmental Justice law.
Many of you used our action form to highlight those priorities for your state senators and representatives, and it worked! There were positive outcomes for all three bills.
We were pleased to play a significant role in enacting a new toxic remediation statute that will result in more cleanup of contaminated sites in environmental justice neighborhoods. Our state’s existing “Transfer Act” only requires sites to be cleaned when there is a pending sale; it was well intentioned but has turned out to delay cleanups and allow responsible parties to evade responsibility. The legislation just passed will require DEEP to create a release based system, which will require spills to be reported and cleaned up when they happen or are discovered, based on their threat to public and environmental health. This especially benefits environmental justice communities that are often saddled with these dangerous and unproductive sites. Much hard work remains to be done. Certain business leaders have fought this for a decade and will continue to resist through the difficult regulation process. We are confident, though, that the new system will result in more cleanups and we’ll be continuing to battle to make sure that happens.
Public Act 20-5, AN ACT CONCERNING EMERGENCY RESPONSE BY ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES, THE REGULATION OF OTHER PUBLIC UTILITIES AND NEXUS PROVISIONS FOR CERTAIN DISASTER-RELATED OR EMERGENCY-RELATED WORK PERFORMED IN THE STATE (whew!)
This bill is the most mixed bag of the environmental legislation passed. While arguably the storm and power outage that catalyzed the bill was yet another sign of the climate change impacts increasingly felt in the state, the bill itself was largely silent on measures to directly address clean energy and climate. Largely, but not entirely—it does include positive measures that:
- Include advancing the state’s environmental and policy goals, including the Global Warming Solutions Act, as a metric in the new Performance Based Regulation framework for determining utility performance.
- Expand eligibility for the state’s micro-grid grant/loan program to include resilience projects in addition to “critical facilities,” making for an electric grid more resistant to power outages.
- Support determining whether the wholesale energy market Connecticut currently participates in benefits the state, and exploring alternatives that would better serve ratepayers and achieve the state’s clean energy goals.
Legislators took a critical step forward in making Connecticut’s Environmental Justice Law a more effective tool in giving voice to communities that bear a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution. Amendments passed that strengthen the requirements for meaningful public notice and participation, require community benefit agreements for communities already subject to polluting projects, and expand the definition of environmental justice to better protect communities. We will continue to strengthen this law to ensure that everyone is heard in the planning and permitting of polluting projects and that their voices are actually taken into account, and to develop real barriers to certain projects that would overburden communities with pollution.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still a concern, so it’s unclear what the session will look when the legislature reconvenes in January. No matter what, though, you can count on Save the Sound to keep you updated about key bills and provide ways to communicate with your lawmakers. We are working to ensure the agenda includes additional polices to strengthen the state’s climate response and support a low carbon future, keep our waters clean, safeguard open spaces and habitat, and build a just and healthy Connecticut for all.