Lawmakers held a rare, four-committee joint public hearing April 17 to accept comments on the proposed new State Water Plan.
Creating the plan was a nearly three-year task for state officials, several advisory committees, and the public, involving a broad cross section of water-use stakeholders.
The result was a 600-page document that reflected a careful balance among stakeholder interests.
Unfortunately, after completing the stakeholder process, the Water Planning Council inserted, without explanation, the text of Connecticut's Environmental Protection Act into the plan.
Speakers at the hearing noted that CEPA is not about balance but, rather, about giving citizens a legal tool to force state government to act against any activities they believe will unreasonably impact the environment.
By inserting and highlighting such broad and potentially impactful language, without discussion during the stakeholder process, the council effectively shattered a delicate consensus achieved over several years of deliberation and compromise.
The move could jeopardize the legislature's ultimate approval of an otherwise "grand compromise."
Calls for Legislative Action
CBIA's Eric Brown and many others involved in the plan's development urged lawmakers to remove references to CEPA except in the section that identifies significant topics for future discussion.
Brown noted that in finalizing the plan, the council "cut and pasted" CEPA into the plan's body and executive summary "without context, without explanation, and without any indication as to the purpose or impact of doing so."
Brown said the move, while unintentional, "seriously fractured the productive harmony achieved over several years, and dropped a heavy legal doctrine onto the scale that was so carefully balanced during the years of collaborative deliberations."
The delicate balance achieved during the multiyear, stakeholder-driven process should be respected and retained.
But it's also an important resource for a wide variety of uses.
That's why, Brown testified, the delicate balance achieved during the multiyear, stakeholder-driven process should be respected and retained.
He encouraged lawmakers to include other complex issues raised after completion of the collaborative process in the section for further discussion.
Some lawmakers said they found it hard to believe the issue never came up during the stakeholder process.
But Brown noted that a consultant to the council, CDM Smith of East Hartford, observed that the topic "was not brought up specifically during the collaborative plan development process."
The committees will now consider whether to approve, disapprove, or send the report back to the council for revision.