Two major battles that had been building for several years played out in full force at the Capitol this session: control of our public water supply and protection of our state’s open space lands. This culminated in two hotly debated bills, Senate Bill 422 and Senate Joint Resolution 36. Throngs of citizens came to the State Capitol—many for the first time—fighting for these most basic environmental needs.
The highly controversial budget negotiations made things especially unpredictable. Important core funding for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Community Investment Act, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Green Bank, Soil & Water Conservation Districts, and the Council on Environmental Quality were tossed back and forth between legislative leaders and the Governor like hot potatoes in competing budget proposals.
"Environmental advocates faced huge challenges in a very contentious legislative session. Considering the budgetary concerns, we did well to advance our goals and hold the line on significant losses.”
- David Bingham, CTLCV Co-Chair
Other critical issues including pesticides, toxic flame retardants, solar energy, net-metering, electric vehicles, plastic bags, packaging waste, notices of tree cutting, Freedom of Information access to water data, and protection of the Housatonic River also met with contentious debate and mixed results.
CTLCV worked with advocates to advance a solid list of pro-environment bills. Individual organizations and coalitions of groups fought for specific priorities, but we all banded together to defeat anti-environment bills and amendments that surfaced unexpectedly. We spotlighted seven initiatives in time to be stopped, most notably the attacks on DEEP’s ability to enforce environmental laws for first-time violators and pursue violators of consent orders.
There were some amazing legislative champions who went to bat for the environment. But there were also many who stood in the way of good bills, influenced by special interests and lobbyists. Still others played politics with the environment or were unwilling to make tough policy decisions for the future of our state. Some of these stories will be told in our Environmental Scorecard.
One thing is clear: battles over our natural resources and protecting our environment are getting more attention at the state legislature. It matters more than ever to have trusted legislative champions fighting for us at the Capitol.
Water Many hard-fought wins in the Senate were derailed in the House. A bill to prevent our public water supply from being sold off to a private out of state water-bottling corporation was thwarted by a massive lobbying push by water utilities that control our state’s water reserves and want to be able to sell it based on “grandfathered” water diversion permits. The upside is that lawmakers, many for the first time, were made aware of the vulnerability of our state’s water supply and had to focus on the bigger issue of planning for Connecticut’s future water uses and needs. Of particular concern were the lack of public accountability by the Metropolitan District Commission (a quasi-public/private water utility) and the inability of our state agencies to oversee some of their practices. As droughts and impacts of climate change on our water increase, the battles over control of water will continue to intensify.
Land The need to protect open space lands of our state culminated in a showdown in the very last hours of the legislative session. Every year, lawmakers give away or sell lands held by the state with little or no public review. This can include lands with important conservation or recreational value that are supposed to be protected in perpetuity. Years of fighting over this practice left advocates no choice but to call for a constitutional amendment to protect these important properties. Legislation calling for a statewide referendum passed both House and Senate, but must also be passed in the next legislative session to be included on the ballot and voted on by the public in 2018. This is a huge win for open space.
Toxic Chemicals Restricting the use of pesticides that are particularly devastating to bees and other pollinators was a significant win. This new approach will help reduce the spraying of neonicotinoids and will put in place a program to protect and increase habitat that is especially important to pollinators. Unfortunately, a solidly bi-partisan bill to eliminate toxic flame retardant chemicals in children’s products was blocked by a single legislator who was protecting the interests of one chemical company in his district.
Waste The problem of plastic bags in our environment was not successfully addressed this year, partly for lack of a coordinated advocacy effort. However, a new initiative to tackle the growing problem of waste from consumer packaging passed handily, which will involve industry in designing the program.
Energy Important progress was made on three key energy programs this session: electric vehicles, virtual net-metering, and the Shared Solar pilot project.
Legislation passed that will accelerate Connecticut’s transition to zero-emission vehicles and increase infrastructure for electric vehicles, putting us on the path to a green transportation future. Virtual net metering laws that let excess clean energy generated in one spot be used towards energy use elsewhere will be expanded to increase the available energy credits for towns, state agencies and farms. And adjustments to the Shared Solar program will help get a two-year pilot project started to allow people who can’t install solar panels on their own homes to subscribe to a larger, shared clean energy facility, like a solar farm. All three will help Connecticut meet its climate goals.
More information will be posted shortly on the results of important energy initiatives, the State Budget and the 2016 Environmental Scorecard!
Below is a list of environmental bills CTLCV tracked during the 2016 Legislative Session. These were the results when the session adjourned at midnight on May 4th.