The 2017 legislative session wrapped up at midnight Wednesday. There were good outcomes, bad outcomes, and some things yet unsettled, but one thing is clear: citizens like you helped tremendously to avert crises and get good policies passed. We couldn’t have done it without you!
Here are some snapshots from our legislative experts on bills that passed, failed, or will be acted upon in the special session over the summer. Issues include clean energy policy, funding raids on critical programs, defense of environmental and public health laws, water policy, and more.
Fighting for a clean energy future
Claire Coleman, climate and energy attorney:
“Now that the U.S. has left the Paris accord it’s up to states to lead the fight against climate change, but lawmakers missed big opportunities this year. The legislature’s failures to establish interim greenhouse gas reduction targets or to extend the Renewable Portfolio Standard, and the caucus budget proposals that propose to strip funding from clean energy and efficiency programs and the Green Bank, imperil Connecticut’s ability to meet its climate commitments.
“Rather than committing to actions that would transition Connecticut to a renewable energy future, some Connecticut lawmakers instead chose to focus this legislative session on propping up outdated nuclear power [SB 106, SB 778]. Despite unanimous opposition from environmental and consumer advocates, a bill passed through the Senate in the wee hours of the morning of the last day of session that would have given a corporate handout to Millstone. That legislation died in the House on the last night of session, but citizens and advocates will need to make sure this proposal doesn’t come back during budget negotiations. A special deal for Millstone would come at the expense of locally-owned renewable energy growth in Connecticut.
“The failure to make electric vehicles more accessible to interested buyers [HB 7097] will hurt efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Connecticut. Vehicles contribute nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and are a major contributor to global warming; we must do more to combat climate change and increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road is a major step.”
“There were a couple of bright spots, however. Two energy bills passed this session with some good clean energy provisions that CFE supported. Clean energy credits have been extended and off-shore wind is now listed as one of the energy sources DEEP may solicit proposals for procurement [HB 7036]. Virtual Net Metering limits were extended for farms with anaerobic digestion [SB 943].
Unfortunately, HB 7036 also included a new ratepayer impact statement requirement that CFE opposed, which may result in one-sided analysis (ignoring the benefits) of renewable energy and energy efficiency proposals in new legislation.
“Connecticut Green Bank’s Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (C-PACE) was also strengthened [HB 7208] and will enhance financing for energy efficiency or renewable energy improvements on certain commercial properties for municipalities and businesses, lowering their utility bills and cutting the dirty emissions that cause global warming and health problems. ”
“The debate over the siting of solar on farmland and forest land was resolved by imposing heightened scrutiny on solar development that would permanently degrade the quality of these lands. [SB 943]”
“Governor Malloy added Connecticut to the United States Climate Alliance just a few days ago, which CFE hopes will reenergize meaningful climate action in Connecticut. We look forward to working with the administration and legislators next year to build on this year’s conversations and ensure Connecticut lives up to its Paris Climate Accord and Global Warming Solutions Act commitments.”
Defending against rollbacks
Andrew Minikowski, legal fellow:
“Corporate special interests made a bid to weaken environmental and public health protections, attempting to pass laws that would give corporations a free license to violate environmental laws by suspending civil penalties [SB 818] and stripping the DEEP commissioner of his authority to update consent orders that are no longer sufficiently protecting the public [HB 7134]. Corporations should not be above the law, and Connecticut should be supporting the laws and institutions that protect our environment, not undermining them.
“Thanks to fierce public opposition, these corrosive proposals were halted. But they should not have gotten nearly so far as they did. Legislators must continue to stand up to polluters and do what’s right for their constituents’ health and our shared natural resources, particularly at a time when federal emphasis on these priorities is waning.”
Protecting CT’s natural resources
Karen Burnaska, water coordinator:
“Protecting our water supplies was another area where much was needed but little accomplished. Multiple bills with strong community support died on the vine, including a measure to promote water conservation during droughts [SB 506], and one to strengthen public health accountability for small water companies [HB 7220].
“But there was one small drop in the bucket of good water legislation: a measure that provides greater transparency and access to information for water planning purposes. [HB 7221].
“There’s more to do. Connecticut still needs a strong State Water Plan, and communities need assurance their rivers won’t be handed over to corporations to bottle and sell, and the forests that filter their drinking water won’t be blasted into mines or housing developments.”
Andrew Minikowski, legal fellow:
“Connecticut’s green canopy has been seriously damaged over the last few years by overly aggressive roadside tree removal by ConnDOT and electric utilities. That’s why we’re glad to see legislation pass that establishes fines for utilities that don’t comply with the law when cutting trees on municipal property or roads [HB 6356].
“A common-sense proposal to require the DOT to develop tree removal guidelines got through the House, but alas, died in the Senate [HB 6123]. The legislature, ConnDOT, and DEEP should take action to protect the trees that provide habitat to innumerable species, filter drinking water, prevent erosion, and keep our state lush and beautiful.”
Melissa Schlag, endangered lands advocate:
“For the second year in a row, lawmakers failed to pass legislation meant to protect public lands. Five years ago, the Haddam Land Swap ripped open a major weakness in the land conveyance process, allowing the General Assembly to divest the state of preservation lands to private investors or corporations. This constitutional amendment [SJ 39] would have provided increased public scrutiny and a super majority vote by lawmakers before any state park or forest land could be sold or transferred.
Funding for a sustainable future?
Karen Burnaska, Transit for Connecticut:
“After years of work, we’re thrilled to see the passage of a resolution that will finally allow the public to make their voices heard on the critical issue of reliable, sustainable funding to maintain the transportation infrastructure that keeps Connecticut moving. A referendum on a transportation funding lockbox will come before voters in November 2018.”
Leah Lopez Schmalz, program director:
“In a session characterized by uncertainty, some of the biggest questions about Connecticut’s future are yet to be decided. The legislature will soon hold a special session to finalize a budget—and the implications for your air and water, and our state’s economy, are tremendous.
“Current budget proposals could cut Long Island Sound Resiliency and Green Infrastructure funds that protect coastal communities from flooding and help stop water pollution. Significantly reduced investments in the state’s Clean Water Fund would slow progress on getting raw sewage out of our waters, and reduce the number of nitrogen and phosphorus upgrades at municipal sewage treatment facilities. And if that happens, Long Island Sound and our lakes will remain low on oxygen and wildlife will continue to suffer for years to come.
“The staggering raids proposed on the energy efficiency funds and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative proceeds will hurt small businesses and low income families while damaging the state’s efforts to combat climate change. This new energy tax, which takes from ratepayer dollars and deposits it in the general fund, is bad for both the economy and the environment.
“Each year Connecticut’s parks and forests are continuously threatened by cuts, and this legislative session ended without relief for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. We hope the special session will provide appropriate funding for one of Connecticut’s most important economic drivers, our public lands.
“In addition to cuts to DEEP, the Council on Environmental Quality is also traditionally on the chopping block and this year was also no exception. The proposed budget calls for complete elimination of the independent watchdog agency that protects our environment by advising state agencies of environmental impacts of projects and investigates citizens’ environmental complaints. CEQ is a volunteer board with a miniscule budget but provides a vast and important service to environmental protection in Connecticut.
“While the magnitude of the plight our state faces is massive, we will be fighting hard to limit the devastation to these critical funds that serve as the backbone of our protected lands, clean air, and healthy water. Connecticut’s citizens must also continue to be vigilant through the special budget session. Please reach out to your state senator and representative, and tell them to preserve the funding that protects your health and the landscapes you love.”