Legislative

CT Legislative Recap: Areas of Progress and Missed Opportunities in 2017

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.

Toxics 

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.

Clean Energy

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).

Recycling

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.

Nuclear is NOT Renewable! Connecticut's Lawmakers Taking our State Energy Policy in the Wrong Direction

The CGA Joint Committee on Energy and Technology introduced legislation this week that would allow Dominion (the Virginia based corporation that owns and operates Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, CT) to apply for state energy subsidies under the "Class 1 Renewable" category of Connecticut's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  The RPS is a critical program designed to ensure energy providers in our state procure a certain percentage of the electricity they sell through clean, renewable sources and energy efficiency, thereby helping to reduce our state's carbon footprint and create good paying clean energy jobs. The Class 1 tier of the RPS has historically been reserved for true clean energy sources, such as clean wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal.  Connecticut's current RPS standard goal is to derive a minimum of 23% of our total in-state energy supply from renewable sources by the year 2020.  With only three years left to meet that goal, our state remains overly reliant on nuclear power and natural gas, while renewables make up less than 4% of our total energy mix.

SB 106 would allow Dominion to compete directly with true clean energy providers for Renewable Energy Certificates(RECs) under the RPS program.  These RECs are sold on a regional market to states that have less robust renewable programs and rely on those credits to help meet their own clean energy goals.

To be clear, nuclear power is not clean energy. Subsidizing existing nuke plants to compete with new development in clean energy totally defeats the purpose of this important program, and it sets a terrible precedent for other states to follow.

A thorough examination of the nuclear fuel cycle--from mining, enriching and transporting the uranium, to the construction of billion-dollar refineries and nuclear power plants, to the handling, processing and storage of nuclear waste--demonstrates that our dependence on nuclear power is energy intensive and creates signficant amounts of pollution.

It's also important to remember that Millstone causes significant adverse impacts to the health of Long Island Sound. Millstone utilizes an outdated "once-through" cooling system that damages Long Island Sound and its marine ecosystems with deadly thermal pollution.  In fact, CCE and other groups concerned with LIS protection and restoration efforts have been working for almost a decade to see Millstone act as a good neighbor by upgrading to a closed-cycle cooling system, which is something Dominion has refused to do.  In 2012, Millstone was forced to shut down one of its two reactors for 12 days because the ambient water temperature in the Sound was higher than the plant's safety standards would allow for.  This was the first time a U.S. nuclear facility had to halt its operations for such a reason.

Perhaps the most alarming part of this discussion is that Connecticut lawmakers do not seem to be concerned in the least about the fact that nuclear power leaves a legacy  of more than 10,000 years of radioactive waste with no permanent repository.  Spent nuclear fuel rods must remain on site for40-50 years or longer before they can be moved, as the radioactive fuel remains highly unstable for decades after use.  To make matters worse, the industry has a questionable safety record, including thousands of private, public and military accidents leading up to the present day.  Most recently, a tritium leak at New York's Indian Point Nuclear Plant resulted in groundwater contamination problems that NYS DEC is still working to mitigate to this day.    Indian Point acknowledged the elevated risk in preliminary reports, finding "alarming levels of radioactivity" at three monitoring wells, including one where radioactivity levels reportedly increased by more than 65,000%.

The bill to include nuclear power as a renewable energy source under Connecticut's RPS is a dishonest effort to fool Connecticut's ratepayers into thinking we are moving forward on clean energy, when in reality, we would be subsidizing a dirty energy source of the past.  Nuclear power is  a costly, outdated technology that puts Connecticut's residents and their environment at risk.  Allowing nukes to compete with real renewables is a raw deal for Connecticut, one which our lawmakers in Hartford seem all too eager to approve.

Think subsidizing nukes instead of investing in renewables is a bad idea? Contact the members of the CGA Energy and Technology Committee and tell them to Vote "NO" on SB. 106 today! https://www.cga.ct.gov/et/

 

 

What a Week for the Great Lakes (and every one of us that depends upon them)!

After working on Great Lakes protection and restoration issues for the past 15 years, it’s hard for me to think of a time when so many accomplishments occurred in such a short period of time.  That said, last week was good week—actually, a great week. Especially when you consider that much of the work that went into these accomplishments started well over a decade ago. It’s what I’d consider winning the triple crown of Great Lakes restoration.  Here’s what was accomplished late last week… Plan 2014 for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River Enacted!  After fifty years of regulation that forced unnatural water levels and flows on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River—devastating the health of the ecosystem and degrading tens of thousands of acres of wetlands—the U.S and Canadian governments recently seized a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore the health of the lake and river by enacting “Plan 2014.” Plan 2014 is a modern, balanced water level management plan that will work with nature to restore the health of the lake and river, while continuing over 50 years of shoreline protection.  The plan will restore 64,000 acres of wetlands, which is largest wetlands restoration effort in U.S. history outside of the Florida Everglades!

If that wasn’t enough, the plan will also rebound populations of fish and wildlife such as the Northern Pike and Black Tern, provide a $5.3 million annual increase in hydroelectric power production, provide a $12 million annual increase in recreational activity along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, and continue over 50 years of significant shoreline protection.  And one more thing—the cost of implementing Plan 2014: $0.

We have to thank the 25,000+ of our members that signed petitions and wrote letters in support of Plan 2014 in the last couple years, which contributed to the 36,000 expressions of support that we—along with our coalition partners—delivered to the White House Council on Environmental Quality in D.C. this fall. We couldn’t have done it without your support!

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act passed!  We often tout the importance and success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which has provided well over $2 billion since 2010 to fund over 3,000 restoration projects throughout the Great Lakes. The GLRI has ushered   progress in cleaning up toxic hot spots, fighting invasive species, restoring critical habitat, and so much more; yet we still have a lot more restoration work to do.

While the GLRI was funded in each federal budget since 2010, the program has never been authorized by Congress.  Without an authorization, the GLRI could be at risk from changing administrative and congressional priorities.  Authorizing the program provides greater long term certainty for restoration to continue, and allows more long-term, complex restoration work to move forward.

After advocating for an authorization since the program started several years ago, the GLRI Act was finally passed as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act  (formerly known as the Water Resources Development Act) with bipartisan support from Congress last week!  The law authorizes the GLRI for $1.5 billion over the next five years!

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding continues! As previously mentioned, the GLRI has provided well over $2 billion for more than 3,000 restoration projects since 2010.  The GLRI has been biggest boon to Great Lakes restoration in decades, helping to push forward long-awaited projects, such as the cleanup of the Buffalo River. The GLRI has provided over $100 million for 229 projects in New York State alone.  The success of the program has been dependent upon Congress continuing to fund the GLRI year after year, in order to ensure progress continues and previous investments are not wasted.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by Congress last week continued funding for the GLRI at current funding levels through April of 2017, ensuring that progress to protect and restore the lakes can continue!

We certainly couldn’t have accomplished this without a multitude of partner organizations, which have been with us every step of the way.  And very importantly, this success has been dependent upon strong and enduring support from the public.  Our members have signed petitions, written letters, spoken at public hearings, and even traveled to Albany and Washington. We thank you!

As we take time to celebrate these victories for the Great Lakes, we also recognize that our work is never done, and the New Year will certainly bring new challenges.  Although as we’ve seen time and time again, with strong support from you—the public—there is nothing we can’t accomplish.  We look forward to working with you to continue to advance Great Lakes restoration in 2017!

2016 Connecticut Post-Session Legislative Recap

Wednesday, May 4th marked the last day of the 2016 regular legislative session in Connecticut.  It was a difficult year for many in our state, as deep cuts to critical government programs are being implemented across virtually every sector.  Over the last few weeks, we've seen the executive and legislative branches clashing repeatedly over budget negotiations in an effort to mitigate a projected $900 million deficit in FY 2017.  The final budget agreement will be finalized and voted on this coming Thursday, May 12, when the entire CT General Assembly will return for a special budget session. While we will not know the extent of the cuts and how they will impact Connecticut's health and environment for another week, there were some significant legislative victories this year to celebrate!  Victories include:

  • Passage of first of its kind legislation to protect pollinator's health by restricting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to bees and other pollinators. The law also establishes a pollinator health task force to study the decline of pollinators in Connecticut and take steps to promote and develop pollinator-friendly habitat.

  • Legislation to reduce the amount of unnecessary and wasteful consumer-based packaging used in manufacturing every day consumer goods.

  • The legislature approved $6 million in virtual net metering credits for municipalities seeking to increase clean solar development in their communities.

  • New legislation to require greater transparency and oversight during the removal of trees on private property.

There were a number of good environmental bills that unfortunately did not get a vote before the midnight end-of-session deadline.  Important legislation that did not pass in 2016 included a bill that would eliminate toxic flame retardants in children's products and household furniture, legislation to reduce pollution from single-use disposable shopping bags, and a resolution to enact a referendum vote on a constitutional amendment to preserve State-owned lands (the resolution passed the Senate and House but unfortunately did not receive the two-thirds vote needed in the House to put the amendment on the ballot for a vote this November).

These losses came as a disappointment to many advocates and members of the public who fought hard for these pro-environment measures in 2016, but the bills also garnered a growing body of bipartisan support that advocates hope to build on in 2017.

CCE would like to extend a special thanks to Rep. James Albis, Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, Rep. Diana Urban,  Sen. Beth Bye, Rep. Phil Miller, Sen. Bob Duff, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, Rep. Roberta Willis, Rep. Mary Mushinsky, Sen. Clark Chapin, Rep. John Shaban, Rep. Kim Rose, Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, Rep. Russ Morin, Rep. Michael D'Agostino, Rep. Joe Gresko, Sen. Tony Hwang, Rep. Jon Steinberg, Rep. Fred Camillo, Rep. Roland Lemar, Rep. Matt Lesser, Rep. John Hampton, Sen. Joe Markley, and the countless others who worked tirelessly on these critical environmental issues in 2016.  We appreciate your efforts and look forward to working with you to continue fighting for Connecticut's environment during next year's CT legislative session!

Connecticut is Losing its Leadership Position on Clean Energy

It's no secret that now is a challenging time to live and do business in Connecticut.  Right now, our State is simultaneously planning for its energy future, seeking to improve its business climate, and trying to keep working families from moving out of state, all against the backdrop of an impending $930 million budget crisis.  But in times like these, it's important to keep the big picture in mind.  If CT is ever going to grow jobs and meet its clean energy and climate change goals, we need an aggressive plan to ramp up utility and community scale renewables and energy efficiency, and we can't afford to wait until our financial problems go away. No point in sugar coating it, CT is beginning to lag behind our neighboring states on expanding its clean energy infrastructure.  In response to a growing demand from the public and private sectors, the General Assembly passed legislation in 2015 to establish a shared-solar pilot program.  Unfortunately, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has chosen to delay implementation of the project by asking for changes and clarification.  Now DEEP is supporting legislation that would further delay the shared solar pilot, much to the dismay of installers who are increasingly leaving the state to look for a more "renewable friendly" business climate.

To make matters worse, Connecticut's projected budget deficit is having a disastrous effect on our clean energy and energy efficiency programs.  The proposed Finance committee budget released last week raids $22 million from Connecticut's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) accounts to help fill holes in the general fund.  RGGI revenues help cities and towns finance clean energy solutions,  provide low cost energy efficiency assessments and weatherization for low-income families, and support the development of clean utility-scale hydropower, and improve the reliability of our state’s energy grid.  Today, more than 6,000 businesses and 55,000 homes in Connecticut benefit from RGGI programs, including more than 20,000 low-income households.

Clearly, these are programs that benefit our state in a number of important ways.  RGGI moneys are leveraged with private capital to spur jobs and innovation and to keep energy costs low; two things that are depserately needed in our state.  But the uncertainty created every time Connecticut changes or delays its clean energy policy is forcing investors to look elsewhere, and it undercuts our ability to keep our commitments on fighting climate change.  Connecticut needs to recognize that clean energy is not a luxury, but a necessity if we are to fully realize the benefits that clean energy carry with them.  It's time to stop gambling with our state's energy future, and that starts with maintaining funding for clean energy programs and moving full speed ahead with renewables.

 

 

 

Cuomo Brings Great Hope for NY's Environment in 2016

While 2016 is less than a week old, Governor Cuomo has given us good reason to be optimistic about the year ahead. As part of Governor Cuomo's 2016 agenda, he recently proposed some critical initiatives to bolster New York's environmental legacy... Increase the NYS Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to $300 million: No matter who you are or where you live in New York, the EPF has improved your quality of life.  From Buffalo to Long Island, the EPF has been responsible for protecting clean water, improving air quality, creating jobs, conserving open space, saving family farms, bolstering recycling programs, revitalizing waterfronts, building community parks, enhancing zoos, driving economic development, and so much more.

Prior to the nation’s economic recession, the New York State Legislature passed legislation to mandate a $300 million EPF by 2009.  Unfortunately, the promise was never fulfilled as EPF funding was cut significantly during the recession and has yet to recover.  While the EPF has seen modest increases in recent years, environmental needs continue to outpace available resources.  The EPF currently sits at $177 million.  Governor Cuomo's proposed $300 million EPF would be a $123 million increase, and put the EPF at an all-time high.  We want to thank the thousands of our members that have signed petitions and written letters calling for a fully-funded $300 million EPF over the past few months--this would not have happened without you!

Increase Funding for Clean Water Infrastructure: Aging and failing sewage treatment plants discharge raw sewage into local waterways, jeopardizing human health, closing beaches, harming fish and wildlife, and damaging local economies. Drinking water infrastructure is also in a state of constant disrepair, with communities facing ever-increasing water main breaks every year and numerous “boil water advisories” due to contaminated drinking water.

Last year, the Governor and Legislature agreed to provide $200 million over three years to help upgrade failing wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.  To build on this, Governor Cuomo has proposed to provide an additional $100 million over the next two years.  Given that New York needs over $70 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade aging sewage and drinking water infrastructure, increased investment is welcome news!

Confirm Commitment to Fund the Bay Park Outfall Pipe on Long Island: Long Islanders asked for an ocean outfall pipe for the Bay Park Sewage treatment plant for Christmas, and Governor Cuomo has delivered! The plant currently discharges sewage into the Western Bays and contributes to low dissolved oxygen levels, harmful algal blooms, and depleted fisheries on the south shore.  A significant state commitment to fund the ocean outfall pipe guarantees that this project will move forward.  That’s a win for our community, our bays, and our ocean.

Confirm Commitment to Address Nitrogen on Long Island:  Septic systems across Suffolk County discharge excess nitrogen, which contaminates groundwater, degrades ecosystems, and threatens public health.  Governor Cuomo has confirmed his commitment to ensure funding for an initiative to connect nearly 10,000 Suffolk County households currently on septic systems to state-of-the-art sewer systems.

CCE will be working hard during the upcoming legislative session to ensure that these proposals are enacted.  Be on the look out for ways you can help!

 

Connecticut Legislature Approves Ban on Plastic Microbeads in Personal Care Products, Pesticides on Town Playgrounds

The 2015 Connecticut Legislative Session has officially come to a close, and CCE members in Connecticut are celebrating two important, last-minute victories for clean water and a healthy environment. The first is a bill that phases out and ultimately prohibits the sale of personal care products that contain plastic microbeads.  These are tiny plastic particles that are used as an additive in more than 100 different products on the market today.  These products include facial scrubs, soaps, cosmetics, and even toothpastes.

The bill would require manufacturers to discontinue the use of these microbeads in favor of safe, biodegradable alternatives that are already on the market.  Certain manufacturers of personal care products have already agreed to phase out the use of microbeads over time.  Unfortunately, many more remain unresponsive to the problem.  While other states have passed bans on plastic microbeads, those laws include loopholes that allow the microbead problem to persist.  The new law passed in Connecticut is the strongest in the nation and will help "raise the bar" on this issue nationally, and stands as a model for other states to follow.

CCE generated more than 4,500 letters to key elected officials and collected over 10,500 signatures in support of eliminating plastic microbeads in products that are available for sale in our state.  Ultimately, the bill passed with unanimous bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, and it was included in the budget implementer bill that was passed during the special session held in late June and early July.

Another significant win came in the form of a law that prohibits the non-emergency application of toxic pesticides on town playgrounds.  It also improves the existing parents' notification system to alert families whenever pesticides are scheduled to be applied on school grounds.  The law is the product of ongoing negotiations in the legislature, and it expands upon laws passed in 2005 and 2009 aimed at protecting children's health by eliminating pesticides on K-8 school athletic fields and daycare facilities.

These victories come as a pleasant surprise to environmentalists and public health activists who had all but given up hope on these important issues after the clock ran out on the regular legislative session on June 3.  More importantly, they are a testament to the power of grassroots advocacy and a shining example of what is possible when members of the public are educated and vocal about their concerns.

CCE would like to applaud Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., Rep. James Albis, Rep. John Shaban, Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, Rep. Diana Urban, Rep. Andy Fleischmann, and Rep. Terry Backer for their leadership and continued commitment to these important issues, and extend a special thanks to Senate President Martin Looney, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz for agreeing to address them during the special legislative session.

How to Avoid Plastic Microbeads: Ban Them!

Ever since I heard about Dr. Sherri Mason’s research on plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes, I’ve become very concerned, some say obsessed, with the issue of microbeads. The fixation began in my own house, where I found toothpastes, facial scrubs, and hand soaps with microbeads. My wife and I threw them all away, and vowed never to allow one of these products in our house again.   Within almost no time at all, we failed. On a couple of occasions, microbeads deviously snuck their way into our home. We won a gift basket with liquid hand soaps that contained microbeads.  I quickly noticed what it was and chucked it. After a dentist appointment for my daughters, the “goodie” bag they brought home had toothpaste with microbeads. An odd choice for a dentist, since the beads are being found lodged in gums and cavities, posing a potential threat for infection.  Regardless, we threw them out, educated the dentist, and moved on.

The most recent invasion of microbeads into my home was today.  My wife was at the store with my daughters shopping for a number of things, including toothpaste.  They were out of the natural stuff that we usually buy and the kids think is gross, so our girls were excited to get something else this time.  They quickly noticed a box of “Frozen” toothpaste.  Put Anna and Elsa on anything, even something without sugar, and my kids will want to buy it.  So it was a no-brainer; they had found what they wanted and threw it in the basket.

Not seeing a picture of sparkly toothpaste (aka toothpaste laden with plastic strictly for aesthetic purposes) on the box, my wife never noticed that the toothpaste had microbeads.  When they arrived home, my four-year-old could not wait to brush her teeth. She walked over to me holding the box and was smiling from ear to ear.  I took a quick look at the inert ingredients, and noticed what I had dreaded, polyethylene. Like the mean Dad that I am, I informed my daughter that this would pollute our lakes, and we could not use the toothpaste.  As expected, it didn’t go well, and this is what the box looks like after we wrestled over it:

Frozen toothpaste

Frozen toothpaste

Aside from just sharing my personal failures and telling everyone I made my four-year-old cry today, I mention these stories for a reason.  As someone that has worked on this issue for two years, doing countless hours of research, writing fact sheets, and advocating for policies to ban plastic microbeads, I consider myself somewhat educated on this issue.  Yet, microbeads have made their way into my home. Being an educated consumer is extremely important, but it is not enough to solve the problem of plastic microbead pollution once and for all.  For that, we need a legislative ban.

Legislation to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products passed the New York Assembly with near unanimous support in April. The same bill has been introduced in the Senate, and now has 37 cosponsors. Only 32 votes are needed for the bill to pass, making this a sure-thing if Senate leadership allows a vote.    As of now, there are only a few days left before the end of the legislative session.  Help us get this critical, no-brainer legislation over the finish line by emailing legislative leaders and demanding a vote before session comes to an end.

CT Legislative Update and Perspectives on Environmental Advocacy in the New Year

Connecticut has historically been a nationwide leader on environmental protection and public health issues, and activists in Hartford are working to make this another important year for our state.  The 2015 Connecticut legislative session has been underway for just over a month and state legislators have already raised a over a dozen important pro-environment bills to be debated and considered for passage this year. In addition, legislators now in leadership positions in the House and Senate (as well as in several key committees) have made environmental issues a priority in the past, and many have promised to stay true to their commitments in 2015.  Advocates are encouraged and hopeful to see a strong showing of bi-partisan support for legislation designed to protect public health and enrich our quality of life in the Nutmeg State.

Some highlights of legislation being considered this year include:

  • Protecting our waterways by eliminating plastic microbeads from personal care products;

  • Expanding Connecticut's Child-Safe Playing fields law to eliminate toxic pesticides on public parks and high school athletic fields;

  • Putting a 10-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic shopping bags at the checkout counter;

  • Expanding CT's bottle-deposit law to include single serving juices, teas, sports and energy drinks; and

  • Lifting the cap on using federal funds to purchase open space.

Another highlight is the recent announcement that Governor Malloy has formally endorsed legislation that would create a Long Island Sound Blue Plan and Inventory.  The Blue Plan would be a master planning document that would allow the state to map out all of the various features and existing infrastructure in the Sound, to ensure that new development proposals are consistent with the values and existing uses of the Sound.  The bill is similar to legislation that was introduced in 2014, but did not pass as time ran out on the session before this bill could be called for a vote in the House of Representatives.  By designating it as a Governor's bill, Gov. Malloy will help elevate the likelihood that this bill will get voted on in a timely manner.  CCE is pleased to see this legislation being re-introduced and applauds Governor Malloy for making it a priority of his administration.

Of course, not all of these forward-thinking environmental and public health initiatives will pass this year.  Many will face vigorous opposition from industry groups that  view these proposals merely as burdensome and unnecessary regulations that will cut into corporate profits, despite the fact that they will provide significant environmental, health, and economic benefits to Connecticut.

In addition, environmental groups frequently find themselves working to advance legislation aimed at protecting the environment, while simultaneously having to remain on guard for legislative proposals that would be decidedly less "eco-friendly."  Every year, dozens of bad bill and rats (dangerously worded amendments that are added onto bills, often at the last minute, to weaken them or repeal parts of existing laws) emerge in the legislature in an attempt to limit or eliminate environmental protections.  CCE continues to remain vigilant in monitoring the House and Senate for environmentally harmful legislation, and will be sure to notify policy makers and the public if this occurs.

For now, there is much to be hopeful for in the realm of environmental protection in our State.  CCE is hard at work at the state house, organizing around any number of initiatives that would make Connecticut a cleaner, healthier place to live.  But with months remaining in the 2015 legislative session, only time will tell what kind of advancements the environmental community will be able to accomplish in Connecticut this year.

New York Should Invest in its Ocean and Great Lakes

New York State is currently in the middle of its budget negotiations (read: battle) and Governor Cuomo has put forth his proposal. He has thirty days to make amendments and then the Senate and Assembly will put forth their versions.  After the requisite back-and-forth, a final budget will be approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.  The budget is supposed to be finished by April 1st.

As you probably know, CCE advocates for the New York State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) every year.  The EPF is an important piece of the New York State budget, but specifically, I would like to talk about the Ocean and Great Lakes line of the EPF.  In 2005, the Ocean and Great Lakes line was added to the EPF and it is used by eight state agencies to advance important conservation and restoration projects along New York's beautiful coasts.  Unfortunately, the Ocean and Great Lakes line has been stuck at $5 million dollars and there is so much work to be done.  Now is the time to up that investment.  Recently the New York State DEC released the draft Ocean Action Plan, a blueprint for protecting our ocean and estuaries.  Additionally, implementation of the DEC's interim Great Lakes Action Agenda is underway and it identifies the most pressing problems facing the lakes, and provides specific goals and activities to address these problems.  With these plans in place it is time to use them and really invest in our ocean and Great Lakes economies.

In 2010, ocean sector industries like fishing and tourism contributed more than $21.7 billion to New York’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supported nearly 300,000 jobs.  The largest ocean economy sector is tourism and recreation: in 2010, tourism and recreation contributed more than $16.5 billion to the state GDP and supported nearly 254,000 jobs.  The Great Lakes also contribute significantly to the state’s economic well-being, supporting a sport fishery valued at more than $2.27 billion that generates nearly 12,000 jobs. In addition, Lakes Erie, Ontario and the St. Lawrence River provide the foundation for a multi‐million dollar tourism industry in the New York Seaway Trail region, serve as a key water resource for hydropower generation and manufacturing industries, and allow for recreational boating opportunities that contribute over $600 million a year to New York’s economy.

In order to implement important goals laid out in both of the Ocean Action plan and the Great Lakes Action Agenda,  additional funding is needed in the Ocean and Great Lakes program.  It's time for the Ocean and Great Lakes program to funded at $10 million and for the state to take these resources, and their contributions to the state economy, seriously.

So please take a minute and contact your Senator and Assemblymember.  Ask them to increase funding for the ocean and Great Lakes.

 

 

 

 

 

Update: New York's Sewage Right to Know Law

In 2012 CCE secured you the right to know when raw sewage was released into the waters near you.  We've been working the NYS DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) to implement the law and get a system in place to notify you when those overflows occur.  The DEC recently announced that you could sign up through NY-ALERT to receive sewage overflow notifications.  You can sign up for NY-ALERT notifications here: https://users.nyalert.gov/ DEC also created an instructional video to help you sign up for the alert system. You can find it here.

CCE has fought hard to get you these notices.  Sewage treatment operators will enter overflow notifications into the system and they will go directly to you -however you choose to get them.  This system allows you to customize your notifications so you can get them via email, text message, or both.

More about Sewage Pollution Right to Know

CCE started the campaign to get you the right to know because every summer we would phone calls from members and supporters asking if we knew what was going on in the waters where they were recreating.  We recognize that other pollutants plague our waters (things like harmful algal blooms), but unfortunately we know all too well that too many people are exposed to raw sewage pollution because they don't know the pollution is there.

To learn more about Sewage Right to Know Law visit CCE's site or New York State DEC's site. 

There is still more to do

While the Sewage Right to Know law states that all sewage overflows are required to be reported, there are still communities who need updated technology to aid in reporting requirements.  Additionally, some communities have not been integrated into the existing reporting system.  CCE will continue to work for full implementation of the Sewage Right to Know Law and ensure that ALL New Yorkers have access to the information that reduces their exposure to raw sewage.

 

Hartford City Council Takes a Stand for the Clean Water Rule

water=life Recently Citizens Campaign for the Environment went to Hartford, Connecticut to speak in support of clean water for all Americans. That night the Hartford City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers' proposal to clarify protection of waterways under the Clean Water Act (CWA), known as the Clean Water Rule. When the Clean Water Rule is finalized it will restore protections to more than 59% of streams that are connected to Connecticut's drinking water sources. This is a big step and sends a clear message that we are ready for our water protections to reflect the original intentions of the CWA.

The Clean Water Act, since its inception in 1972, has enforced the protection of our rivers, lakes, coastal waters and wetlands. In other words, it protected all waters of the United States. This resulted in clean water, billions of dollars of economic activity, and  jobs for millions. Farming, industry, recreation and tourism all benefit from protecting clean water.

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While the US has seen great economic , environmental, and health benefits  from cleaner water, unfortunately Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 and subsequent federal policy changes have  caused confusion to what is protected under the Clean Water Act. As a result, 60% of the nation’s stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands are not protected by the CWA .This means that about 117 million Americans get their drinking water from streams that are vulnerable to pollution.

The proposed Clean Water Rule would finally restore the Clean Water Act protections back to where it was before the court cases of 2001 and 2006. The Rule would not expand the law beyond where it was prior to the court decisions; it would merely remove the confusion that made so much of our water vulnerable to pollution since 2001. The confusion that  put the drinking water for 2.2 million residents of Connecticut residents at risk would finally be cleared up.  The rule would restore protections to millions of small streams and wetlands that provide most of the flow to local rivers, including the Housatonic, Farmington, Connecticut, Thames and Quinebaug. The protection of the network of smaller streams that lead into our rivers and bays are the key to keeping them healthy and ensure the safety of millions of jobs that depend on clean water.

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We encourage other towns to follow in the example that Hartford set in standing up for clean water. Individuals can stand up with them too. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are holding a public comment period until November 14, 2014.  The public must show support for the Clean Water Rule, and we have provided an easy way to take action!

Be a part of ensuring the clean water rule is implemented and in keeping our waterways safe for future generations!

 

A Game Changer for Drug-Free Waters

Americans are using more pharmaceutical drugs than ever before.  About half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug each month, and 10% take more than four.   In 2013, more than 3.9 billion prescriptions were filled at pharmacies in the United States.   Americans may be prescribed a whole lot of drugs, but we certainly don't use them all.  So what are we to do with all the unused, unwanted, or expired drugs that remain in our medicine cabinets? Federal Law: A Barrier to Safe Disposal of Unused Drugs

More than 40 years ago, President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, which essentially provided the public with two options for their unused drugs: surrender them to law enforcement  or dispose of them yourself.  Even pharmacies, which dispense significant amounts of pharmaceutical drugs, are prohibited from taking unused drugs back without law enforcement present.  Therefore, the best option for safe disposal has been take-back days held by the DEA and local law enforcement.  In the past four years, these events have removed 4.1 million pounds of prescription medications from circulation in the US.  CCE supports these events and encourage the public to participate.  However, given the sheer amount of pharmaceutical drugs out there, these events don't even scratch the surface of the problem.  Take-back days only occur a couple of times per year, and are inaccessible to many people.  While some police precincts are also housing permanent drop boxes for unused drugs, safe disposal remains inaccessible to many. The result: drugs are stockpiled in medicine cabinets, drugs are abused, or they are flushed.

An Emerging Environmental Threat

This gets me to the point of why an environmental organization is so concerned about pharmaceutical drugs.   For decades, the recommendation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others was to flush your unused drugs, despite the fact that sewage treatment plants, septic systems, and drinking water infrastructure were never designed to remove these contaminants.   While flushing is no longer recommended, it remains a common disposal practice by many residents and in many hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Scientific studies are now demonstrating that all of this flushing of drugs is polluting our waterways.  National studies have found trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs in drinking water supplies of 41 million Americans. A study conducted by the USGS found low levels of drugs such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids in 80% of the rivers and streams tested. Throughout New York State and Connecticut, water sources have tested positive for trace amounts of heart medicines, antibiotics, estrogen, mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, and more.

The effects of constant, low-level exposure of various pharmaceuticals on humans are uncertain, and more research is needed. Possible health concerns include hormone disruption, antibiotic resistance, and synergistic effects.

While the health effects on humans have not yet been proven, pharmaceutical drug contamination has been proven to adversely impact fish and aquatic life.  For example, studies have shown male fish have been feminized (produced eggs) when exposed to hormones (birth control pills). Other drugs, such as anti-depressants and beta-blockers, reduce fertility or affect spawning in certain aquatic organisms.

Congress Takes Action

With the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse and the environmental impact of flushing, Congress recognized the need to provide the public with greater access to safe disposal options for their unused or expired drugs. The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 was passed into law to encourage voluntary drug take-back programs, beyond just take back days held with law enforcement.

The law required the DEA to develop implementing regulations, which didn't happen overnight.  CCE, along with leaders such as Senator Schumer, worked for years to urge the DEA to move forward with their regulations.  Finally, after four years, just this week the DEA announced that they had finalized their regulations, which will go into effect in October of 2014.

A Game Changer for Safe Disposal

Release of the long-awaited regulations is a game changer -- the biggest step yet to provide the public with greater access to safe disposal options. The biggest barrier to safe disposal of pharmaceutical drugs by the public has been a lack of access to safe disposal options.    The new regulations help to overcome this barrier by allowing pharmacies to finally take back unused pharmaceutical drugs--whether it be a secure lock-box at the pharmacy or the option to mail back unused drugs  in an envelope.  What could be easier than allowing the public to return drugs to the very same place that they get them--right in their neighborhood pharmacy?  Pharmacies at hospitals and heath care facilities will also be able to take back unused drugs.  This is critical since many health care facilities, which obviously have a large amount of pharmaceuticals on site, still flush controlled substances as a common disposal practice.

Next Steps

As we celebrate the release of these regulations, we are reminded that our work is never done.  While the regulations allow pharmacies to take back unused drugs, it is merely voluntary.  We must ensure that pharmacies step up and provide this critical public service to our communities.  While CCE will be reaching out to pharmacies directly, we also need your help.  Next time you stop in to your local pharmacy, encourage them to participate and provide pharmaceutical take-back for its customers.  We can keep dangerous prescription drugs out of the hands of abusers and out of our waterways with easy, safe disposal options!