PRESS RELEASE: Save the Sound Responds to Connecticut Legislative Session’s Environmental Action Wins for environmental justice, habitat, and clean water, but massive missed opportunities on reducing emissions and plastics

New Haven, Conn. – The 2023 state legislative session was characterized by incremental progress, as legislators and advocates alike adapted to new norms in the Connecticut General Assembly’s first fully in-person session in three years. Measures that will protect public health, clean water, and habitats passed in the final days of session, while there were significant missed opportunities on climate action and reducing plastics.

Below, Save the Sound policy experts respond to the outcomes of the session.

Missing the Moment on the Climate Crisis

The session started with a number of proposals that together would have held Connecticut accountable to its climate commitments and reduced greenhouse gas from multiple sectors. In the end, only one passed.

“As this session ended, Connecticut legislators failed to pass significant climate action, even as the air over our state was hazy and the sun orange with smoke from wildfires in Canada. It was a dire confirmation: the climate crisis is here, and its impacts are already being felt by all of us,” said Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy attorney at Save the Sound. “Connecticut’s leaders have abdicated their responsibility to meet the climate challenge. CT DEEP must be granted the tools and authority to reduce emissions from the transportation and building sectors, as the legislature has repeatedly charged the agency with doing. Without those tools, we will continue to experience ever-worsening impacts to our health and economy, as well as the legal ramifications of failing to meet the commitments the legislature has made in law.”

SB 1145, AAC the Establishment of Sector Specific Subtargets for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions, would have updated Connecticut’s reduction targets to match the latest science, required subsector targets to assist in keeping on track, and given DEEP the tools and authority it needs to make those reductions. It garnered 17 cosponsors and passed the Environment Committee successfully but was then sent to the Appropriations Committee, where it died as that committee’s deadline expired.

HB 6397, AAC Zero-Carbon Emissions would have declared a climate crisis and required DEEP to produce a comprehensive Connecticut Decarbonization Roadmap identifying the regulations, policies, and programs needed to meet the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets. It passed the House on June 2 but was not called for a vote in the Senate.

Sections of SB 4 AAC Connecticut’s Present and Future Housing Needs would have established a substantial grant program to fund weatherization barrier remediation and energy efficiency improvements for low-income households. SB 979 AAC the Establishment of the Connecticut Home Energy Label and the Tree Canopy of Municipalities would have helped prospective tenants save money and incentivized energy efficiency improvements by requiring the disclosure of energy usage of certain homes. SB 961 AAC Carbon-Free School Requirements (also known as the Carbon Free & Healthy Schools bill) would have provided funding and technical assistance to help public schools cut energy costs. SB 961 passed the Senate but was not called in the House; the others were not called in either chamber.

SB 1083 AA Establishing a Transportation Carbon Budget would have required ConnDOT to establish a carbon budget for state and municipal transportation projects to address Connecticut’s largest source of emissions. This language was ultimately adopted and passed in SB 904, the omnibus transportation bill, thanks to the efforts of Senator Christine Cohen and Representative Roland Lemar.

Another bill that passed unfortunately undermines Connecticut’s green economy. Massive energy package SB 7 counts new nuclear energy as Class I renewable energy—the same category as solar, geothermal, and offshore wind—which threatens our state’s small but growing renewable industries by inappropriately shifting the market in favor of nuclear.

Save the Sound thanks Representatives Joe Gresko, Christine Palm, Brandon Chaffee, Mike Demicco, and Aundré Bumgardner and Senators Rick Lopes, Saud Anwar, and Christine Cohen for their efforts to advance these bills and their commitment to climate action that will protect our health and economy. We will continue to partner with them, and with our fellow members of the Connecticut Coalition for Climate Action, next year to achieve the measures Connecticut must in order to meet the climate crisis.

Advancing Environmental Justice

SB 1147 AAC the Environmental Justice Program of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection passed the Senate on June 2, followed by the House on the last day of session. 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.

Save the Sound 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, Aundré Bumgardner, David Michel, and the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus for their leadership in protecting public health and advancing justice. The bill was a top priority of the Connecticut Coalition for Climate Action.

“The approval of permits for polluting facilities disproportionately impacts public health 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.

Protecting Our Waters and Habitats

The FY 2024-25 budget’s investment in the state’s Clean Water Fund is relatively modest, although it is on top of $294.6 million previously authorized and not yet allocated to projects. The budget also includes funding for publicly-owned gray or green infrastructure projects to manage stormwater.

“Budgeting for clean water infrastructure is just the first step toward improved water quality for everyone,” Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper at Save the Sound, said. “This increased funding is helpful for offsetting the rising costs of projects. To meet years of pent-up environmental need, fulfill towns’ Clean Water Act obligations, and fully realize the jobs benefits of infrastructure investment, the legislature should continue strong funding and the Bond Commission should fully allocate these dollars. CT DEEP needs more engineers to help address bottlenecks and get critical clean water and resiliency projects moving.”

HB 6479, Climate Resiliency Funds and Projects, will help municipalities fund projects that make our communities more resilient in the face of climate change. It passed unanimously in both chambers.

HB 6480, An Act Establishing a Working Group on the Restoration of Eel Grass, passed. “We would like to thank Senators Rick Lopes and Heather Somers for making possible this important bill, which will bring together shellfishing interests, students, researchers, and the Soundkeeper to join the collaborative effort to find solutions to work eel grass restoration into the coastal waters,” said Soundkeeper Bill Lucey.

HB 6809 …Streamside Buffers and Training for Inland Wetland Commission Members passed the House but failed to receive a vote in the Senate. Championed by Representatives Joe Gresko and Mary Mushinsky, it would have protected water quality and habitats by allowing stormwater funding to be used for vegetated buffers along rivers and streams, and required every town’s Inland Wetland Commissioners to take DEEP’s award-winning online training program. These are important protections Save the Sound remains committed to.

Protecting water company and aquifer lands is key to protecting the quality of our drinking water supplies. Public Act 23-31, signed into law on June 5, underscores the Department of Public Health’s jurisdiction over current, future, and emergency water supplies—authority we have always contended DPH has but which required clarification because recently, water companies have argued they had the ability to unilaterally abandon any inactive or future water supply. This would have allowed them to sell surrounding lands, putting tens of thousands of forested and protected water company lands across Connecticut in jeopardy.

We’re also grateful for the hard work of our environmental allies, who worked with us to improve the timeliness and transparency of postings of land conveyances—including specifics regarding size and location of parcels, critical environmental characteristics, and future use. Receiving this information in advance of public hearings allowed concerned parties time to research and respond appropriately.

Reducing Plastics and Toxins

A bill that would have protected wildlife by prohibiting the intentional release of balloons (HB 6481) failed to reach consensus, and another that would have eliminated polystyrene school cafeteria trays and prohibited restaurants from using some polystyrene food containers (HB 6606) was an early victim this session. “These intractable issues have been brought to the legislature and failed to pass before, but we’ll keep on plugging away at them,” said Soundkeeper Bill Lucey. “We’re in this for the long haul, and I’m looking forward to the day when I’m not routinely skimming pieces of Styrofoam and stray party balloons out of Long Island Sound.”

Bills that would have restricted the use of rodenticides and neonicotinoid pesticides also failed to reach consensus this session.

SB 100 …Grants to Towns that Need PFAS Testing and Remediation creates a vehicle for funding to municipalities to test for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances linked to numerous health impacts yet still found in consumer products and firefighting foam. It passed both chambers unanimously. “This is the kind of issue where you love to see agreement,” said Soundkeeper Bill Lucey. “PFAS hurt our health and contaminate wildlife, and towns need help dealing with it. The testing will provide valuable information about the scale of the problem so we can better address remediation in future sessions.” The state budget also includes $3 million in municipal grants to remove PFAS from firefighting equipment.

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