PRESS RELEASE: CT DEEP Staffing Cliff Threatens Key Protections, Warns Save the Sound Report

Environmental enforcement and public health at risk as valuable staff expected to retire in 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts: Laura McMillan, lmcmillan@savethesound.org; Maggie Cozens, mcozens@savethesound.org

New Haven, Connecticut – Save the Sound has released a report spotlighting the impending retirement cliff that could see the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection lose a quarter of its staff by July 2022. “Protecting Connecticut’s Future: Overcoming the 2022 Environmental Cliff” examines the threat of lost staff capacity and expertise, and makes recommendations for urgent planning to avert damage to critical programs including environmental enforcement.

“DEEP has consistently been asked to do more with less,” said Kat Fiedler, staff attorney at Save the Sound. “Now they face unprecedented retirement levels by next summer. The loss of so many experienced staff will dramatically impact DEEP’s ability to protect our public health and natural resources. We are asking the Governor’s office and the legislature to prepare for this challenge by reviewing how retirements will affect the core responsibilities of the agency including enforcing environmental laws. Without concrete plans, Connecticut’s environment, public health, and quality of life will suffer.”

The crisis is the result of changes to state employee benefits. By July 1, 2022, agencies statewide are expected to lose significant numbers of experienced staff: 40 percent of all state employees are eligible to retire and will face disincentives to delay retirement. Approximately 26 percent of DEEP staff who responded to a 2019 survey only planned on remaining with the agency for three more years. In addition, the agency will likely face budget cuts as a result of COVID-19’s strain on the overall state budget.

The state legislature’s Environment Committee is considering a bill this week to begin addressing the topic. Senate Bill 924, An Act Concerning the Staffing and Resources of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, requires a study of the impacts of expected retirements on the viability, functioning, efficacy, and efficiency of each DEEP program. It also would study positions funded by the Passport to the Parks account (a smaller budget with growing demands as outdoor public spaces became even more important in 2020). Save the Sound strongly supports the bill and is advocating for strengthening it. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Friday, March 19. Members of the public can contact the committee clerk at envtestimony@cga.ct.gov to submit testimony or get information about joining the hearing.

The full suite of recommends in Save the Sound report includes:

Action steps for the Governor’s office and the legislature

2021 Legislative Session Priorities

  • Provide resources to re-hire inspection and enforcement staff to retain or enhance enforcement capacity
    • Establish a Task Force that will include broad stakeholder representation
    • Ensure DEEP staffing and resource constraints aren’t used to strip responsibilities and oversight
    • Prioritize transition to e-governance

Ongoing Priorities

  • Reform current contract policies and practices
    • Conduct regular legislative or Council on Environmental Quality review of compliance rates and environmental quality
    • Commit to fund and staff major projects and initiatives

Action steps for DEEP

  • Prioritize rehiring of enforcement and inspection staff
    • Plan employee training to replace senior positions anticipated to be vacated
    • Make compliance and enforcement data available to the public so people can understand threats to their communities and take action
    • Track compliance rates to ensure continued environmental outcomes
    • Prepare for and retain flexibility to tackle emerging issues
    • Explore reconfiguration of staffing while maintaining baseline staffing levels
    • Retain oversight and ensure transparency wherever responsibilities are privatized
    • Build resource resiliency into every major program area

Curt Johnson, president of Save the Sound noted, “Change is inevitable. Our Governor, legislators, and Commissioner Dykes must act now to ensure that the core function of DEEP—ensuring environmental enforcement so that every person in our state enjoys clean water and healthy air—remains strong as we adapt to these changes and build Connecticut’s future together.”

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Full report

Factsheet


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