PRESS RELEASE: CT Legislative Session Ends with Climate Action, Water & Wildlife Protections

New Haven, Conn.—The 2022 session of the Connecticut legislature, marked by unusually early passage of several major climate bills, concluded Wednesday night. Despite unexpected drama over the budget adjustment bill in the final hours, which seemed to derail passage of several hoped-for bills, on the whole climate action and environmental advocacy rose to the challenge, bringing to fruition months and, in some cases, years of advocacy. (Read our budget coverage.)

Save the Sound deeply appreciates the hard work of legislators who championed these causes, including the leadership of Environment Committee co-chairs Senator Christine Cohen and Representative Joseph Gresko; Energy and Technology Committee co-chairs Senator Norman Needleman and Representative David Arconti; and Transportation Committee co-chairs Senator Will Haskell and Representative Roland Lemar. In addition, Save the Sound applauds Governor Ned Lamont for directing attention toward climate action this session. We urge him to promptly sign the public acts passed this session that will benefit our climate, environment, and future.

Addressing the Climate Crisis

Cutting Emissions from Transportation

Senate Bill 4, An Act Concerning The Connecticut Clean Air Act, is a major tool in reducing transportation emissions and helping put Connecticut back on track to meet its greenhouse gas reduction obligations under the Global Warming Solutions Act, with provisions that 1) authorize adoption of California’s Medium and Heavy-Duty vehicle standards; 2) establish a matching grant program to help deploy electric school buses and set goals for a 100 percent electric school bus fleet by 2040; 3) enhance the state’s lead by example efforts by ending the purchase of diesel transit buses by 2024 and requiring 100 percent battery electric vehicles in the state’s light-duty vehicle fleet by 2030; 4) increase available incentive funding for EVs; and 5) expand access to EV charging infrastructure.

Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy attorney for Save the Sound, said, “Connecticut continues to suffer some of the worst air quality in the country, and cleaning up vehicle emissions is particularly important for the health of low‐and‐ moderate income populations living in urban communities and along transportation corridors. Reducing emissions from medium‐ and heavy‐duty vehicles, in particular, is critical to meeting our climate and air quality goals, as those vehicles are responsible for a disproportionate share of both our climate and ozone pollution.”

S.B. 93, An Act Concerning The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Program, expands eligibility for the Connecticut Green Bank’s Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program by allowing the program to finance installation of zero-emission vehicle charging infrastructure and resilience improvements on qualifying commercial real property.

Growing Clean Energy

S.B. 10, An Act Concerning Climate Change Mitigation, requires Connecticut to supply 100 percent of its electricity from zero-carbon resources by 2040.

“We know from the most recent inventory of Connecticut greenhouse gas emissions that we are not on track to meet the state’s statutory emissions reduction targets, due primarily to the transportation and building sectors. Much steeper and faster emissions reductions will be needed in order to reach our 2030 and 2050 targets. That will require transitioning to electric vehicles and renewable thermal building technologies such as heat pumps. The effectiveness of this beneficial electrification relies, in turn, on a clean, zero‐carbon electricity grid. Codifying the 100 percent zero‐carbon electricity standard is a critical step towards eliminating Connecticut’s reliance on fossil fuels and achieving our climate goals,” said Rothenberger.

S.B. 176, An Act Concerning Clean Energy Tariff Programs, will help grow solar energy and make it more accessible by increasing allowable project sizes and doubling the annual megawatt capacity of the state’s Shared Clean Energy Facilities (SCEF) and commercial solar (NRES) projects.

Planning for Our Climate Future

The long-awaited requirement of climate change education in the science curriculum of all Connecticut public schools has arrived with this year’s budget, thanks to Education Committee co-chairs Senator Douglas McCrory and Representative Bobby Sanchez, and Environment Committee vice chair Representative Christine Palm. “Considering the threat of climate change to future generations, it is of the highest necessity for Connecticut schools to teach the science of climate change so that youth will be equipped with the tools to think critically and will be prepared to participate in the growing green economy,” said Alex Rodriguez, climate advocate at Save the Sound.

Protecting Waters and Wildlife

Keeping Toxins Out of Our Environment

People need to know when pesticides are being applied, especially near water sources like lakes and ponds, so they can plan ahead and stay safe. S.B. 116, An Act Concerning Notification of Pesticide Applications Near Lakes and Ponds, requires more specific notices from pesticide applicators to the people who contract with them and to the general public.

S.B. 120, An Act Concerning the Use of Chlorpyrifos on Golf Courses and Neonicotinoids for Nonagricultural Use, bans non-agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos, including golf courses. (Restrictions on neonicotinoids were removed from the final bill.) Rain and groundwater can transport these chemicals into streams and Long Island Sound. “Lobster fishermen have long complained about pesticides entering their fishing grounds, weakening the lobster population already stressed from warming waters,” said Soundkeeper Bill Lucey of Save the Sound. “These chemicals are in common use, and we need to keep them from contaminating our waters.”

The 2023 budget funds training for Green Snow Pro certification in best practices and “green salting” techniques for workers who apply road salt. Improper application and excess road salt can contaminate our drinking water, poison creeks, mobilize toxins, and destroy our cars and bridges.

Protecting and Restoring Marine Life and Habitats

Forage fish like menhaden (bunker) are an essential link in the food web, connecting plankton, fish, birds, and marine mammals. House Bill 5141, An Act Concerning the Protection of Certain Fish Species, creates modest measures to protect four currently unmanaged species of forage fish by establishing catch limits to prevent overharvest.

Included in the 2023 budget is the establishment of an Office of Aquatic Invasive Species within the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, thanks to the leadership of Environment Committee vice chair Representative Christine Palm. “Invasive species crowd out native species and can be impossible or extremely expensive to eliminate. Controlling them requires early detection and rapid response. Creating this office signals the state is ready to expand this capability,” said Lucey.

The budget adjustment also permits beneficial dredge reuse, in which clean fill from dredging projects is repurposed to help rebuild dunes, shore up subsiding marshes, and nourish beaches, keeping soils and sands local and helping to restore structures that allow a vibrant coastal ecosystem to flourish.

Unfinished Business

Every session, no matter how successful for the environment, includes its losses. Here are some of the important bills that garnered sufficient momentum to make it to the Senate and House calendars, but didn’t get a vote by midnight.

Currently, Connecticut consumers can only buy cars from dealerships, limiting access to Electric Vehicles. S.B. 214, An Act Concerning the Sale of Electric Vehicles in the State, would have provided customers with the freedom to purchase an electric vehicle directly from manufacturers, thereby accelerating the state’s transition away from fossil fuels, while supporting a thriving economy. “Continued opposition from the car dealership lobby is inhibiting our state from meeting its Zero Emission Vehicle targets. They have misled state leaders and residents into believing this bill favors one business, when in reality, it would be a significant revenue asset for the state. We hope the legislature will revisit this proposal and pass it next year,” said Rothenberger.

H.B. 5041, An Act Concerning Home Energy Affordability for Home Renters, would have required landlords to provide a qualifying home energy label when offering units for rent. “Transparency on the efficiency of buildings’ energy use is an important tool for saving renters money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We hope the legislature will revisit this long-needed proposal next year,” said Rodriguez.

“Of all the types of plastic pollution, evidence shows polystyrene (Styrofoam) has the greatest negative effect on marine life because it attracts and holds toxins such as PCBs, which are released when the foam is broken up or ingested,” said Lucey. “Over the last three years, our cleanup volunteers found more than 20,000 pieces of polystyrene, such as cups and takeout containers. Alternatives are available, including natural packaging or reusable containers, and many institutions and businesses have already made the switch.” S.B. 118, An Act Concerning the Use of Certain Polystyrene Products, was designed to cut down on polystyrene pollution in the environment by requiring restaurants, caterers, and most schools to stop using polystyrene trays and single-use food containers by 2024. The bill passed the Senate but was not taken up by the House.

S.B. 239, An Act Prohibiting the Use of Certain Rodenticides for the Protection of Hawks, Raptors and Other Wildlife, would have banned the use of certain rodenticides in outdoor areas like parks, where pets and wildlife might be harmed by them. Mice consume this poison, then stumble around out in the open where they are eaten by raptors, snakes, and pets. These same pets can grab bait stations, chew them open, and consume the poison. Despite overwhelming support in the Environment Committee, it did not receive a vote in either chamber.

H.B. 5294, An Act Concerning the Intentional Release of Certain Balloons, would have banned the intentional release of helium balloons, which often wash up on the beach or strangle wildlife with their string. In Long Island Sound, these balloons can also break down into smaller pieces, which are ingested by fish. We thank Senator Craig Miner for his hard work on this bill; it enjoyed near-unanimous committee support but did not receive chamber votes.

Eel grass provides habitat for a wide variety of fish and other Sound dwellers and sinks large amounts of carbon into the sediment through its root system. Eel grass acreage in the Sound is rapidly declining, and we are looking at a near future without this habitat. S.B. 242, An Act Establishing a Working Group on the Restoration of Eel Grass, would have created a much-needed collective of aquaculture specialists, municipal leaders, and scientists to help this submerged aquatic plant recover. Senator Heather Somers was instrumental in crafting this bill, which passed the Senate but was not called in the House.

Our team looked to build on previous efforts to strengthen Connecticut’s Environmental Justice Law. The original version of H.B. 5297, An Act Concerning the Multiplicity of Affecting Facilities in Certain Census Blocks in the State, would have required that environmental permitting decisions take into account existing environmental and public health burdens and deny permits for additional polluting sources in already overburdened communities. The bill was amended to require a Connecticut Equity & Environmental Justice Advisory Council to work with the DEEP Commissioner in submitting a report to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2023 regarding revisions to the current Environmental Justice Law. “Environmental justice is racial justice, health equity, and related issues,” said Rodriguez. “Our team is committed to advancing solutions that will provide a safe and healthy environment for all, especially for low-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities that have historically suffered the most from facilities like fossil fuel power plants and trash incinerators in their neighborhoods.” 

We’ll continue to advocate for these important policies with legislators, fellow advocates, and people across Connecticut.

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