With the 2017 Connecticut legislative session behind us, it's time to reflect back on what happened this year in the realm of conservation, environmental protection, and public health. As a whole, this session was marked with some disappointment from environmental groups and consumer advocates across a spectrum of issues, but there were some noteworthy areas of progress as well. As always, CCE remains committed to advancing unfinished business in the future, and we will continue to advocate for our legislative priorities in 2018 and beyond. Water Protection
VICTORY: CCE worked in conjunction with CT Clean Water Action, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, Save Our Water, and the CT League of Conservation Voters to successfully advocate for legislation that allows the public greater access to water planning information under the Freedom of Information Act. Additionally, legislation to appoint a consumer advocate to the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) board. MDC is a municipal water authority serving 8 municipalities, including Hartford, Bloomfield, East Hartford, West Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, Windsor and Wethersfield. It is critical that the public have increased transparency and greater input into decisions that impact our water supply.
ISSUES FOR 2018: The legislature failed to act on legislation that would protect our water supply from large water users. A proposed bill would have put mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from large water bottlers during times of drought or other water supply emergencies, and another bill would have prohibited the use of declining block rates for large volume water bottlers and other industrial users.
VICTORY: CCE successfully advocated for legislation that allows retail pharmacies in the state to establish programs for collecting unused and unwanted pharmaceutical drugs. In addition, CCE supported the passage of a new law that prohibits the use of coal-tar based sealants on state and local highways. Improperly discarded pharmaceuticals and coal-tar sealants are emerging contaminants that both have devastating impacts on marine ecosystems.
ISSUES FOR 2018: Legislation that would have established a permanent ban on the storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous fracking waste made it through the House with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, but ultimately failed to get called for a vote in the Senate before the midnight end-of-session deadline on the June 7th. CCE was instrumental in passage of a moratorium on fracking waste in 2014, which spawned a statewide effort resulting in more than 15 local governments in CT passing local ordinances to prohibit the storage, treatment and disposal of fracking waste.
CCE also worked in 2017 to pass a bill that would have prohibited the use of recycled rubber mulch made from shredded car and truck tires on school and public playgrounds across the state. Despite receiving favorable reports in the Children's and Planning & Development committees, the bill was never brought forward for a vote in the House.
VICTORY: CCE worked in a coalition with environmental groups and consumer advocates to prevent the passage of ill-conceived legislation that would allow Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, CT to compete with Class 1 and Class 2 renewable resources for long term power-purchase agreements with the State. CCE is proud to have defeated this legislation in 2017, which would make our state increasingly reliant on dirty nukes while further delaying progress on meeting Connecticut's clean energy goals.
ISSUES FOR 2018: Environmental advocates were deeply disappointed in the lack of progress made on clean energy policy in 2017. From legislation that would have expanded our Renewable Portfolio Standard to bring more renewables into Connecticut, to a bill that would have repealed a hidden surcharge levied against electric customers to help subsidize the construction of oil and gas pipelines across New England, the CGA failed to make meaningful progress on a wide range of important energy issues this year. This is especially concerning in light of Governor Malloy's recent announcement that Connecticut would be joining the U.S. Climate Alliance (a group of 12 states that have agreed to upholding our commitments under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord).
VICTORY: CCE worked with ConnPIRG, CT League of Conservation Voters, CT Leage of Women Voters, CT Citizens Action Group, Clean Water Action and many others to successfully defend Connecticut's bottle deposit law (aka the Bottle Bill). Ill-conceived legislation would have eliminated the 5-cent deposit on carbonated beer and soda containers and bottled water, and replace it with a non-refundable 4-cent tax on every beverage sold in the state. Thanks to an outpouring of grassroots opposition from all parts of the state, our coalition successfully opposed this shortsighted legislation, thereby preserving one of Connecticut's most effective recycling laws!
ISSUES FOR 2018: CCE will continue to push to modernize Connecticut's Bottle Bill to include juices, teas, and other non-carbonated soft drink containers that are currently not covered by the law. The bill to accomplish this unfortunately died in the House this year, along with a bill to increase the handling fee paid to retailers and redemption center for each container they recycle under the bottle deposit. The Bottle Bill is a proven, effective system for incentivizing recycling and keeping our beaches, parks and open spaces free of bottles and cans.
Open Space Preservation
VICTORIES: Legislation passed in 2017 to provided added transparency and opportunities to intervene in the trimming and/or removal of trees on municipal property.
ISSUES FOR 2018: Last but not least, many environmental groups are mourning the death of a Constitutional Amendment that would require transparency and public participation for any transfer of protected state lands for development or any other purpose. An identical bill was passed in 2016, but passage is required two consecutive years in a row in order to approve any changes to our state constitution. Unfortunately, the bill was never brought out for a vote in the senate, despite widespread bipartisan support for the bill in 2016.
Looking back on the 2017 session, it's clear that while Connecticut has made incremental progress on a number of environmental issues, but there is still much work to be done to preserve public health and the environment, protect our water supplies and open spaces, meaningfully advance our clean energy goals, and end our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Unfortunately, there were a number of good bills that never saw the light of day this year- this is no doubt due in part to the looming $3.5 billion dollar deficit lawmakers are grappling with currently. It's a classic example of how the environment suffers during tough economic times, and policymakers need to understand that these issues are just as important now as they are when the state finds itself in "greener" economic pastures. Clean air and clean water are not luxury items that can be disregarded in difficult economic times!
The failure of the Connecticut General Assembly to act on many commonsense, bipartisan efforts to protect our environment is troubling, especially when juxtaposed against Governor Malloy's recent announcement that Connecticut must remain a leader on climate change. What our state needs now more than anything is leadership; the kind of leadership that Malloy is trying to demonstrate. It's time for our House and Senate representatives to step up to the plate, put politics aside, and make our health and the quality of our environment a priority once again.