Adopting innovative, 21st century approaches to solving the state’s environmental challenges can help recharge jobs and economic growth in Connecticut. But that will require a change of direction from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as it administers its programs and policies. 

CBIA testified before the legislature’s Environment Committee this week on SB 60, which proposes beefing up staffing in two critical components of DEP’s operations:  permitting and enforcement. The DEP says it can’t achieve deadlines set in last year’s major regulatory reform law without approximately 60 more staff and an additional $500,000 per year in revenues.

Staffing is certainly critical to an effective DEP.  But CBIA believes there are alternative approaches to permitting and enforcement that--using existing resources--would achieve greater compliance and faster permitting, but most important, a better environment and economy.  

Focusing on encouraging innovation, rewarding businesses for going “beyond compliance,” and gauging success on environmental progress--rather than the number of inspections, enforcement actions and penalties—is the key, says CBIA’s Eric Brown. 

Connecticut’s environmental challenges today are very different from those the state faced in the 1970s and 1980s, when most of the DEP’s current regulatory system was established.

Today’s most significant environmental challenges are no longer centered in the business and industry sector. Whether it is greenhouse gas emissions, stormwater run-off, cleanup of contaminated brownfields, energy conservation, water quality, water use, air quality and more – Connecticut manufacturers and other businesses contribute only a small percentage to each of these challenges. 

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently noted that “Many more miles of rivers and streams [in Connecticut] are degraded today by runoff from developed areas than are polluted by sewage treatment plants and industrial discharges combine.”  

Addressing 21st century environmental challenges in a 21st century global economy will require new and innovative regulatory approaches developed through collaboration, shared learning and shared responsibility.

Unfortunately, in recent years, relationships among the DEP, environmental groups and the business community have too often reflected what the traditional regulatory scheme encourages:  contentious, litigious and adversarial interactions. And that has resulted in a significant drain of resources for all involved, and lost opportunities for environmental progress. 

For example, there are hundreds of brownfields sites in every part of Connecticut that hold the promise for significant new economic development—and jobs. However, despite numerous laws and programs aimed at restoring these properties, few have realized that promise.

Property developers, insurers and others involved in commercial real estate have long said that Connecticut’s liability scheme is so onerous compared with federal and other state’s laws that generally steers investment toward developing greenfields rather than brownfields—or away from Connecticut altogether. 

Connecticut can’t afford to miss out on opportunities like these to clean up areas and bring back economic development and job growth.

State lawmakers will play a critical role in supporting DEP’s strategic efforts to become a flexible, efficient partner in advancing environmental and economic progress in Connecticut.  CBIA looks forward to working with the new administration and the legislature to create an agency that will be a model for how to advance environmental and economic interests together.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric Brown at 860.244.1926 or eric.brown@cbia.com.