PRESS RELEASE: Environmental Outcomes of the 2024 Connecticut Legislative Session

Failure to act on climate and environmental justice; wins for healthy waters and habitats; major environmental rights rollback defeated

New Haven, CT. – The 2024 state legislative session followed the pattern of recent years, with laudable passage of multiple policies to protect public health, clean water, and habitats contrasting with yet another year of failure to take serious action on climate change. Bills to advance environmental justice also died on the vine.

The session’s most important climate bill got through one chamber and not the other, a microcosm of the half-measures Connecticut’s government has taken on this crisis.

This session was additionally notable for several serious attacks on Connecticut residents’ environmental rights, the most sweeping of which was not called for a vote after widespread outcry.

Many important bills originated in the Environment Committee, and we thank co-chairs Senator Rick Lopes and Representative Joe Gresko and vice-chairs Senator Jan Hochadel and Representative Christine Palm for their tireless efforts, along with every legislator, advocate, and Connecticut resident who has dedicated their time and energy over the last three months to ensuring a healthier and more just environment.

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

This release represents the best information available to us as of the midnight close of session; we will update this blog in the coming days as more information becomes available.

Save the Sound advocates’ view from the gallery Wednesday night as the House passed SB 192 to improve dam safety.

COMBATTING CLIMATE CHANGE

Momentum for climate action collapsed on the last day of session as House Bill 5004, the Connecticut Climate Protection Act, was not called for a vote in the Senate after passing the House 98-49 the week before. The bill was championed by Representative Christine Palm, garnered 71 co-sponsors, and was the top priority of the Connecticut Coalition for Climate Action.

“Appallingly, this session has turned out to be yet another failure for climate legislation and for Connecticut’s people, businesses, and future,” said Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy attorney with Save the Sound. “Only weeks after Connecticut released its latest greenhouse gas inventory report demonstrating that emissions are actually going up in some sectors, the state Senate failed to take up the session’s major climate bill. Where once we were a leader, we are now a laggard, watching impotently as our neighboring states adopt milestone policies commensurate to the threat that climate change poses. Connecticut cannot continue to allow itself to be held hostage to a vocal minority of climate change deniers that reject the science, reject the evidence of our own eyes, and reject the clear desire of Connecticut’s residents for meaningful action on climate. We can and must do better.”

  • Alarmingly, the session also ended with no progress on reducing pollution from the transportation sector, the state’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicle planning bill HB 5485 did not get a vote and the legislature declined to adopt updates to the clean car and truck standards Connecticut has followed for 20 years, leaving major unfinished business for next year if the state is to meet its climate goals.
  • While hardly the bold growth plan for solar power originally envisioned, the passed version of HB 5232 will modestly increase solar energy capacity by granting PURA discretion to approve additional commercial solar projects subject to a budget cap, extending the successful Shared Clean Energy Facility program (“shared solar”) by two years, and streamlining the application process for solar canopies. This incremental progress is unfortunately partly counteracted, however, by certain provisions in HB 5507 that add obstacles to siting commercial solar projects. HB 5356, which would have diluted the Renewable Portfolio Standard and could have kept Connecticut tied to natural gas longer, was defeated.
  • Efforts to make Connecticut more resilient to climate change got off to a strong start but largely fizzled, with the Governor’s proposed SB 11—which would have helped Connecticut communities prepare for extreme weather and other impacts by updating preparedness, evacuation, and mitigation plans—failing to appear for a vote in either chamber. Up to the end of session legislators were trying to find new vehicles for some key pieces. However, the bonding package passed at the end of session establishes and funds a Resiliency Revolving Loan Fund to provide low-interest loans for climate resiliency projects and increases grants for microgrids and resilience projects.

PROTECTING OUR WATER

This session saw progress in legislation to protect Connecticut’s water and ecosystems and the health of its residents, with a major win in phasing out toxic PFAS chemicals.

Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey said, “Connecticut pushed the national envelope by expanding the categories of products which will be banned from containing PFAS. Despite challenging disagreements between interested parties, full consensus was reached, and the bill cleared both chambers with unanimous votes—the kind of thing you love to see when public health is on the line! When the ban goes into full effect in 2028, there will be a tremendous drop in delivery of PFAS chemicals to Connecticut waters and our bodies. Save the Sound and Clean Water Action have been working on PFAS since 2019 and this bill is the culmination of that partnership.”

  • Efforts to combat other toxic substances didn’t fare as well. SB 190, which would have restricted the use of toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, didn’t make it past the Environment Committee, and HB 5219, which adjusts requirements for the spraying of herbicides on railroads passed without limits on a particularly harmful class of rodenticides we’d hoped to see added.
  • Dam safety moved forward this session with the passage of SB 192 allowing DEEP to act quickly when dams are in poor condition, which many of our state’s 4,000+ dams are, to protect life, property, and our rivers. 
  • The Senate failed to pass HB 5170, missing an opportunity to ensure that inland wetland commissioners making decisions about our fragile wetlands under the Connecticut Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act are properly trained in the complex ecology and laws of wetland management.
  • This session also saw wins for habitat protection and restoration. HB 5355 protects the health and ecosystem of the Farmington River by managing flows through the Colebrook River Lake Dam with river ecology in mind—great news for fish in our state’s most famous trout river. HB 5222 acknowledges the value of natural riverbank vegetation for stormwater filtration by allowing DEEP to acquire conservation easements using stormwater infrastructure funds. HB 5229 takes steps to preserve and restore our rapidly-declining underwater eelgrass fields as the culmination of six months of work led by Dr. Jamie Vaudrey of UCONN, Representative Joe Gresko, and Senator Heather Somers. 

ADVANCING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

Legislation to address inequities in environmental permitting did not make it past the finish line this session. SB 198 was proposed to give residents the opportunity to weigh in on local development proposals for potentially hazardous facilities and other utility infrastructure.

“The General Assembly had a significant opportunity to advance environmental justice, and didn’t take it,” said Alex Rodriguez, environmental justice specialist for Save the Sound. “SB 198 would have required that a local resident of an area where a potentially hazardous project is proposed temporarily join the Connecticut Siting Council to weigh in on decisions that may impact the health of residents and the natural environment. We look forward to revisiting this effort with the General Assembly. It is a critical tool for ensuring a safe and healthy environment for communities that have been historically impacted by environmental racism.”

  • The legislature also punted on an opportunity to protect small-town residents by reversing a provision exempting Connecticut’s smallest designated environmental justice municipalities from key protections in PA 23-202, which strengthened the state’s environmental justice law last year. Language closing the loophole was proposed in SB 290 but did not make it out of committee.

DEFENDING AGAINST ROLLBACKS AND HARM

“This session saw a disturbingly concerted movement to roll back core environmental protections for clean water and our most fragile resources, particularly the citizen suit provisions of the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) that have existed for more than 50 years,” said Roger Reynolds, senior legal director, Save the Sound. “Most troubling were provisions in House Bill 5475 limiting the public’s right to intervene in any residential permitting proceeding to raise environmental issues. This would have given a free pass for every profit-motivated housing developer to override long-standing environmental protections. Thanks to a huge effort from dedicated legislators, environmental organizations, land trusts, wetland agencies, water companies, municipalities, planners, and others the bill was halted in the final week of session. If we eliminate the public’s rights to intervene in development projects that threaten the environment, we will imperil our most fragile resources and sacrifice our public health and the natural places that make Connecticut special.”

  • The legislature did eliminate, however, the right to petition for a public hearing in environmental matters involving certain transportation capital and transit-oriented development projects, intending to move federally-funded ARPA projects along faster. However, the ARPA bill 5523 (1) is not limited to ARPA projects, but will roll back these hearing requirements forever, (2) seems to set up a new and potentially different environmental standard, and (3) does not explicitly and clearly preserve the rights to a hearing and appeal under CEPA. This matter was added to the ARPA funding bill at the very last second, making it impossible for our concerns to be thoroughly understood and addressed.
  • Public oversight helped deal with several problematic land conveyance bills, among them: HB 5520, which would have turned over state park land to a private developer who had already illegally encroached on it, was killed; HB 5522, which would have conveyed 19 acres of state forest to a YMCA camp without protections, was modified to a 25-year lease for passive recreation and passed both the House and Senate. Since Connecticut has fallen short of its own goal of 21% open space by 2023, the state should act to protect more land, not hand natural areas over to unpredictable outcomes.
  • This spate of attempted weakenings of citizens’ rights and environmental protections shows why the Green Amendment is needed to ensure environmental progress in Connecticut continues. This amendment to the state constitution, considered but not passed in SJ 193 this year, would establish a right to healthy air, water, and soil, safeguarding people’s environmental rights and preventing attempted rollbacks in the future.

Save the Sound deeply appreciates the hard work of legislators who championed these causes and defended environmental rights, including but hardly limited to the aforementioned leadership of the Environment Committee; Speaker of the House Matt Ritter and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas; Senators Saud Anwar, Christine Cohen, and John Fonfara; and Representatives Hector Arzeno, Aimee Berger-Girvalo, Aundre Bumgardner, Brandon Chaffee, Lucy Dathan, Mike Demicco, Eleni Kavros Degraw, Maria Horn, Dominique Johnson, Susan Johnson, David Michel, Patricia Billie Miller, Mary Mushinsky, Christine Palm, John-Michael Parker, Robyn Porter, Moira Rader, Geraldo Reyes, and Jonathan Steinberg; and all the co-sponsors of HB 5004.

We urge Governor Lamont to promptly sign the public acts passed this session that will benefit the health of Connecticut residents, the vibrance of our region’s environment, and our collective future.

Nevertheless, this session ends with incredibly important business left undone. Save the Sound’s advocates, coalition partners, and thousands of members statewide will continue to be vigilant for attempts to undermine residents’ environmental rights, and to fight for the climate action and accountability that are essential to our state’s future.

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