In a quieter session for environmental issues at the state Capitol, lawmakers staked out common ground between businesses and environmental activists in continuing efforts to make Connecticut a more attractive location to invest in the revitalization of contaminated and often abandoned properties known as brownfields.
Wisely, legislative champions for the issue acted early in the session by negotiating a brownfields bill that unanimously passed the House two weeks before the end of the legislative session and gained final approval by the Senate on the penultimate day.
HB 5573 is very technical in its legal precision but basically provides three important benefits to municipalities, owners and developers of brownfield properties:
- Provides greater flexibility for those voluntarily cleaning up these properties by allowing them to verify that portions of the site are cleaned-up, rather than having to have the entire property cleaned up prior to submitting a verification. This is particularly helpful on large sites where deals on cleaning up and redeveloping a portion of the site can now go forward without having to clean up the entire property right away.
- Under current law the presence of certain wastes at the site associated with remediation efforts (such as soil, groundwater or contaminated sediments), are exempt from the types of wastes that can trigger Connecticut’s complicated “Property Transfer Act.” This bill adds certain demolition wastes to that list.
- Provides additional flexibility to municipalities associated with cleanup projects involving the use of eminent domain.
- Allows the Department of Economic and Community Development to forgive or delay repayments of brownfield loans made to private developers, not just municipalities and regional entities, as current law allows
Unfortunately for environmentalists, their investment in a politically motivated bill that in all likelihood will have no environmental impact on Connecticut forced them to accept the passage of a bill that will.
Anti-natural gas activists were determined to send a message to New York State that Connecticut was banning wastewaters generated by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)--and therefore, the Empire State should do the same and ban fracking altogether . Hydraulic fracturing is the process used to extract commodities, such as water, oil or even heat in the case of geothermal wells, from beneath the earth’s surface.
Connecticut has a huge opportunity to import relatively cheap, clean and reliable energy from New York and Pennsylvania if those states use hydraulic fracturing to extract perhaps a hundred years’ worth of natural gas supplies.
But some people want a completely non-carbon based energy system for the United States. So, if they can ban hydraulic fracturing in New York, they will stifle the supply of this natural gas supply to New England–an outcome that could cost the region up to tens of millions of dollars in additional energy costs each year.
Despite activists’ heavy lobbying efforts, the legislature modified the “fracking ban” bill, changing it to a three-year moratorium while DEEP develops regulations specifically designed for these wastewaters.
Provisions that could have significant implications for waste management practices in Connecticut were adopted as part of SB 357. Sections 1 thru 4 of the bill, among other things, establish a significant new state goal. Currently, Connecticut has a goal of achieving at least 25% of the state’s solid waste. This bill changes the goal such that at least 60% of the solid waste be reduced, reused or recycled by 2024.
To accomplish this, the bill requires revisions to the state’s Solid Waste Management Plan by July 1, 2016 to include a variety of new strategies including modernizing solid waste management (1) modernizing solid waste management infrastructure throughout the state, through the efforts of private, public, and quasi-public entities; (2) promoting organic materials management; and (3) recycling construction and demolition debris. It also calls for the development of municipal and regional programs.
The bill also replaces the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) with a new, Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA). It modifies CRRA’s authority and transfers those authorities to the MIRA, including requirements for a smaller staff level.
Connecticut Water Resources Plan a Go
With the unanimous approval of the state Senate in the final days of the legislative session, a comprehensive Water Resources Plan for Connecticut is at the starting gate.
Earlier in the session, the House overwhelmingly passed HB 5424, which authorizes the Connecticut Water Planning Council (WPC) to prepare a plan for the management of Connecticut’s water resources by July 1, 2017. After a time for public comments, it will be submitted for legislative review by Jan. 1, 2018.
One Source Water Plan
The legislation strengthens the current function of the WPC, which is represented by the Office of Policy Management (OPM), Department of Public Health, and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. It also provides guidance on the goals and criteria that the water resources plan should meet.
Under HB 5424, the WPC will oversee the plan's implementation and annually report on its progress. The Office of Policy and Management (OPM) will assist with independent consultants for advice or assistance in developing and compiling the plan, which may include data collection, storage, and organization, as needed.
Specific WPC Responsibilities
The WPC will be required to identify appropriate regions in the state for comprehensive water planning; establish data needs and processes, involve regional councils of government for planning and permitting use; consider the potential impact of climate change on the availability and abundance of water resources and the importance of climate resiliency. The council also will promote the adoption of municipal ordinances for municipal water emergencies, and examine appropriate ways to resolve conflicts on implementing the state water plan.
Water Plan Content Criteria
Critical elements of the plan will include, among other things, identifying water quantities and qualities, and current and future water demand on a statewide and regional basin scale; recommending ways to balance public water supply, economic development, recreation, and ecological health; establishing guidelines and incentives for consumer water conservation, considering energy efficiency, and anticipating all of the plan’s potential impacts on Connecticut.
Public Review and Comment
Before finalizing the plan, there will be extensive opportunity for public review and comment.
For more information, contact Faith Gavin Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.