Wildlife, open space, voting rights made gains; significant work remains on climate action, toxins, pollution
HARTFORD – In advance of the upcoming 2024 Connecticut Legislative session, the CT League of Conservation Voters today released its 2023 Environmental Scorecard which holds state lawmakers accountable for their votes on environmental policies.
“CTLCV is a voice for the environment and we publish an annual Environmental Scorecard to let voters know what kind of actions their state representatives and senators take – or do not take – to protect the environment, to retain open spaces, and to end the practice of locating dirty industries in the same neighborhoods year after year,” said CTLCV Executive Director Lori Brown. “Connecticut was a leader among New England states in environmental protection laws, but we have lost ground and we are falling behind.”
The CTLCV 2023 Environmental Scorecard highlights successes in legislation to protect wildlife, such as new laws to help restore eelgrass, protect shoreline nesting birds, halt the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs, and reduce light pollution that harms migratory birds.
The concept of Environmental Justice moved forward with passage of Senate Bill 1147, providing greater emphasis on the cumulative health and environmental effects on communities during the permitting process for new facilities that will add to environmental pollution. The measure gives the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection the ability to deny permits to such facilities in communities already overburdened by pollution.
The 2023 General Assembly also endorsed considerable funding in the state’s biennial budget for land conservation and public access to open space, including bond authorizations up to $10 million annually for the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, $10 million annually for the Connecticut Recreational Trails Program, and $3 million for the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program.
Unfortunately, these gains were outnumbered by considerable losses for the environment. The Scorecard reveals that climate action and environmental protection were not priorities for lawmakers this year, as many bills failed to be called for a vote.
“We cannot protect the environment by dwelling on the past and lost opportunities, but we can double down -- with support from our many environmental partners across the state – and prepare for the 2024 session,” Brown said. “The General Assembly failures of 2023 are now opportunities for 2024.”
As the only device to hold state lawmakers accountable for their actions on environmental policy, the Scorecard is intended to let voters know how their local representatives and senators perform when called upon to protect the environment. It is the only document that makes this information readily available to the average voter, and it provides a mechanism to open a dialogue between constituents and lawmakers around environmental issues.
Based on the recent, overwhelming lack of action on broad-based bills supported by CTLCV and its partners, CTLCV initiated its Climate, Coffee & Conversations program to encourage this dialogue within each legislator’s district in an informal, local setting.
While several CTLCV-backed bills made it out of committee, many of those never saw further action. Simply put, the system failed the environment. And many of those bills had the benefit of significant public support, but, as in the case of legislation to ban pesticides, “industry interests were prioritized over the vital need to protect pollinators and bird populations,” according to the Scorecard.
Chief among other “failures” was the lack of action to address the state’s waste problem. Despite proposals offered by the CT Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management, which included municipalities and the Administration, House Bill 6664 faced strong opposition from waste haulers. After multiple revisions, the bill still failed and worse, legislators eliminated support for food waste diversion programs that would have reduced the volume and cost of each municipality’s refuse streams. This issue remains a huge concern for municipalities and state leaders and has an impact on every taxpayer’s checkbook.
Efforts to address climate change were similarly turned back. Senate Bill 1145 sought to update the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. This initiative would have implemented strong policies to reduce emissions, granted DEEP the authority to implement programs, and held our state accountable for achieving our climate goals. When lawmakers derailed that legislation, advocates intensified their efforts on another bill that would have declared a “climate crisis” and called for a comprehensive plan to reach our state’s emissions targets. House Bill 6397 would have established a “Decarbonization Roadmap” putting us on a path to reach zero-carbon emissions by 2050. We commend leaders in the House for passing this legislation, but the Senate allowed the bill to die without action.
While the Environmental Scorecard is a significant, public-facing initiative of CTLCV, it represents a small portion of the year-round work of CTLCV and its allies.
As an example, in 2022, CTLCV celebrated the passage of legislation calling for the adoption of vehicle emissions standards that are the strongest allowed by law and would have supported the process of meeting the zero-carbon emissions goal mentioned above. Yet, total victory could not be declared because the Assembly’s Regulations Review Committee has to take action on the regulations and opponents have renewed their efforts to delay this progress. Meanwhile, our neighboring states have already adopted such regulations or are in the process of doing so. Continuing to remind lawmakers of the public support for this initiative and the consequence of delay is a significant part of CTLCV’s daily role as a watchdog for the environment.
This is the first year that CTLCV has included a separate Democracy Score as well as the legislator’s Environmental Score. In that regard, CTLCV is celebrating a victory for voting rights with the passage of Early Voting legislation and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.
According to the League, the more voices heard in our democratic process, the better it is for our democracy, and for electing leaders who will act on important environmental and climate initiatives. These new laws will help Connecticut build a stronger, more inclusive democracy infrastructure in our state.
CTLCV urges voters to review the 2023 Environmental Scorecard along with Scorecards from previous years available at CTLCV.org . It is the only way to know whether your representatives in the General Assembly truly support a cleaner environment for future generations.
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