Energy and Environmental Policy: A Delicate Balance

03.09.2011
Issues & Policies

Just one day after a public hearing on a major brownfield reform bill (HB 6526), business leaders and policymakers reconvened at the Legislative Office Building to discuss how to better sync the state’s environmental and economic goals.

At the Energy and Environmental Policy breakout session at Connecticut Business Day, manufacturers and others urged legislators and public officials to not only facilitate brownfield redevelopment but also advance other policies that support job creation and economic growth.

Key topics of discussion were a new energy tax included in Gov. Malloy’s tax package as well as the governor’s proposed consolidation of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) into a single superagency—the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).  

Panel members were Sen. Edward Meyer (D-Guilford), co-chair of the Environment Committee; Rep. Len Greene, Jr. (R-Seymour), member of the Environment and Energy and Technology committees; Kevin DelGobbo, chair of DPUC; Kathy Saint, president of Schwerdtle Stamp Company; and Tracy Babbidge, DEP project manager.

Diane Whitney, an attorney with Pullman and Comley and chair of the firm’s Environmental Law Department, moderated.

Wanted: Stable Policy, Prices

“Unacceptable” is how Meyer described Connecticut’s energy prices, calling them “one of the three biggest impediments to business growth”—the other two being health care and housing costs.

In fact, though electric rates have trended down, business members pointed out that they are still significantly higher (in some cases, nearly double) the rate per kilowatt hour in other states. To add to the problem, said Greene, “we keep changing the rules, which has a chilling effect on business investment.”

One of the problems, DelGobbo pointed out, is that there is no state executive branch function with the mandate to develop energy policy.

That would change with the formation of Gov. Malloy’s proposed superagency. Dan Esty, Yale professor of environmental law and policy and author of Green to Gold, has been tapped to serve as DEEP’s commissioner.

“Dan Esty will reverse the direction Connecticut has taken,” said Meyer, “and renew incentives for businesses to invest in our state.”

Babbidge was equally optimistic about the incoming commissioner and her agency’s prospective merger with DPUC, saying it provided an opportunity to “stack up all stakeholder goals—cost, reliability, and environmental protection” and “refocus on the economic underpinnings of the environmental decisions we make.”

A Level Playing Field

A number of business leaders remarked that they have choices about where to locate their operations. If the state wants to  attract and retain business investment, they argued, it needs to offer a competitive advantage.

Charles Campanari of Cytec Industries told the panel, “As a Connecticut manufacturer that has plants around the U.S. and around the world, I say…please…level the playing field.”

In addition to denouncing measures to balance the state budget that included raiding the Energy Efficiency Fund and extending the Competitive Transition Assessment (CTA)—a charge on CL&P ratepayers’ bills that was set to expire last year—they were critical of the lack of clear environmental rules and guidance for businesses and what they described as DEP’s “gotcha” policy of issuing notices of violation first.

The emphasis of DEP has been on “paperwork compliance” instead of environmental improvement, said Jerry Clupper, executive director of the New Haven Manufacturer’s Association. Clupper called for regulatory reform with an emphasis on speed and simplicity.

Mission Not Yet Accomplished

Thanking attendees for their feedback and candor, Greene underscored the importance of staying in contact with elected officials:  “I didn’t really know how important energy policy was to the business community until I heard from constituents at the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce.”

“We have a shot at a new direction that will be much more pro-business,” added Meyer, whose Environment Committee takes up a host of bills this afternoon, including one that addresses DEP enforcement and permitting.

“Mission not yet accomplished.” — Lesia Winiarskyj

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer-editor at CBIA. She may be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.

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