Hartford, CT – On the last day of the 2023 legislative session, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 1147, An Act Concerning the Environmental Justice Program of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, in a 110-40 vote. The Senate passed the legislation 34-2 on June 2. The bill protects families’ health and the environment by enhancing the state’s environmental justice statute and providing DEEP and the Connecticut Siting Council with the ability to deny permits for facilities that would worsen pollution in already-overburdened areas.
The Connecticut Coalition for Climate Action applauds the bill’s passage, and thanks Environment Committee co-chairs Senator Rick Lopes and Representative Joe Gresko, Environment Committee Ranking Member Senator Stephen Harding, as well as Representatives Geraldo Reyes, Christine Palm, Aundre Bumgardner, David Michel, and the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus for their leadership in protecting public health and advancing justice.
Provisions in SB 1147 that uplift environmental justice include:
- Granting DEEP and the Siting Council the tools and authority to deny or place conditions on permits if DEEP determines that the proposed permit would place additional burdens on already overburdened communities, or stressors greater than those faced by other communities;
- Requiring applicants subject to the law to (a) file an assessment of environmental or public health stressors, and to (b) submit and receive approval of a public participation report to show compliance with the requirements for informal public meetings (e.g., notice, public comment, and video recording);
- Expanding the notice that must be given about an upcoming informal public meeting to include online posts and direct mail to households within one-half mile of the facility;
- Requiring the newspaper advertisement to include information on how interested people can review project documents;
- Requiring the facility’s applicant to accept oral and written comments from any interested person and provide an opportunity for meaningful public participation at the informal public meeting;
- Requiring the chief elected official or town manager to select a resident of the potentially affected environmental justice community to participate when negotiating a community environmental benefit agreement to mitigate an affecting facility’s impacts;
- Requiring mitigation in a community benefit agreement to have a direct connection to the impacts of the proposed facility, and to be proportional to them;
- Allowing DEEP or the Connecticut Siting Council to assess a reasonable fee on an applicant to cover the costs of implementing the environmental justice law, including costs for providing technical assistance to applicants and environmental justice communities.
Though SB 1147 has ultimately passed, advocates are concerned that the bill exempts modifications and expansions of an existing permit for an affecting facility from the law’s requirements, and wish to revisit this area in 2024.
Momentum for a stronger environmental justice law in Connecticut compliments the efforts led by environmental justice advocates in New Jersey and New York. In recent years, both states passed landmark legislation that ensures cumulative impacts are taken into consideration in the states’ environmental permitting processes when polluting facilities seek permits in disadvantaged communities; Governor Phil Murphy signed New Jersey’s environmental justice law in 2020, while Governor Kathy Hochul signed New York’s law at the end of last year.
The bill will advance to Governor Lamont’s desk for his signature.
Connecticut Coalition for Climate Action affiliates offered the following statements:
“The approval of hazardous facilities, such as powerplants, sewage treatment facilities, trash incinerators, and landfills, impacts public health in urban, rural, tribal, and suburban communities alike—but these facilities are concentrated in low wealth urban communities and communities of color of all income levels. We applaud the General Assembly for uplifting the health of people of color by taking action on environmental justice this session,” said Alex Rodriguez, Environmental Justice Specialist, Save the Sound.
“As an environmental health physician and long-standing environmental justice advocate, I am thrilled by the passage of this update to Connecticut’s environmental justice law that, for the first time, proposes a mechanism to stop new environmental hazards from being placed in already overburdened communities,” said Dr. Mark Mitchell, Associate Professor of Climate Change and Environmental Health Equity at George Mason University. “This has the potential to reduce asthma, cancer, and other environmentally-related health disparities in our state.”
Samantha Dynowski, State Director, Sierra Club Connecticut, said, “Pollution threatens the well-being of every Connecticut resident, and is especially concerning for communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and exposed to toxic facilities. The legislature has taken additional steps to protect vulnerable families and children from the burden of environmental pollution by passing SB 1147. We look forward to continuing to work together to build a healthier, more equitable and sustainable future for all.”
Lori Brown, Executive Director, CT League of Conservation Voters, said “CTLCV has always considered that environmental justice goes hand in hand with any progress we make on climate legislation. Building on the successes of last year, the legislature just passed a much needed overhaul of our state’s environmental justice law. We applaud our elected leaders, especially Representative Geraldo Reyes, who has been fighting for years to address climate change and to extend safeguards for environmental justice communities. This hard-fought win moves us in the right direction.”
“Passage of SB 1147 marks an important step in expanding health protections for our most vulnerable communities” said Dr. Sanjiv Godse, chair of the Connecticut Health Professionals for Climate Action. “Numerous health problems including asthma, heart disease, and some cancers are associated with environmental hazard exposures. Limiting these exposures is a win for Connecticut.”
“We are delighted that SB 1147 moves us toward addressing the injustices to overburdened communities who bear the brunt of pollution from fossil fuel-based power generation,” said Nathan Frohling, Director of External Affairs for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.
About the Connecticut Coalition for Climate Action
The CT Coalition for Climate Action comprises environmental advocates, health experts, labor and municipal representatives, and others advocating for climate action in Connecticut. Formed in 2023, the Coalition’s central demand is that Connecticut keep its promise to cut climate pollution and protect our future. Members of the coalition’s steering committee are Save the Sound, American College of Physicians – CT Chapter, CT League of Conservation Voters, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment Connecticut, Mark Mitchell, M.D., scholar-activist Kat Morris, Sierra Club – CT Chapter, and The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. More information at www.climateactionct.org.