Legislative session a boon to environment

This year’s legislative session in Hartford surprised many environmentalists by actually producing some wins. Here’s a quick review.

Regarding land use, the public thinks state-owned land is permanently protected, but environmentalists know it can be swapped or sold under the Conveyance Act, whose proceedings are shielded from the public. This year some safeguards became law, authorizing: Conservation restrictions as a default; management plans to prioritize each parcel’s functional values; and public comment early in any conveyance proceeding.

Second, safeguards for trees were also put in place, following a backlash against the utilities’ excessive pruning and tree removals in response to storm outages. Going forward, the utilities will have a greater burden of justification for tree-cutting, and homeowners’ rights are more assured. At a state hearing on tree-cutting held at City Hall, many Milford citizens favored such provisions. Milford’s leadership on urban forest issues through Milford Trees, Inc. will aid tree protection here.

Also, a bill eliminating public hearings for subdivision applications before zoning boards was blocked. In cases such as Milford, where zoning boards are already compromised, this bill would have had disproportionately limited public input on development.

With respect to recycling. A goal was set to recycle 60 percent of statewide solid waste by 2024. The current state average is 26 percent. At 12 percent in 2010, Milford was way behind, and stopped reporting.

As for air quality, Methane is the main constituent of natural gas and small methane leaks, while not explosive, pollute the air. These leaks are common in old cities such as Milford where the original gas distribution pipelines have corroded. Legislation now limits the amount of “lost and unaccounted for” gas that can be recovered from ratepayers, giving companies an incentive to fix leaks.

As for water, four major bills passed affecting water quantity and quality. Most important, a process was instituted to create a comprehensive statewide water plan, which Connecticut has never had. Funding was maintained for wastewater treatment and sewer upgrades and bonded for a new clean drinking water program. Finally, fracking wastewater was prohibited from entering the state until DEEP adopts regulations to control it as hazardous waste.

Regarding Long Island Sound, the marine industry was aided at ports and marinas, and a shoreline resiliency fund was instituted. These measures, along with the water-related ones above, affect Milford particularly as a downstream, coastal community.

Concerning energy, various financial and legal incentives for clean energy, energy efficiency, and distributed generation in microgrids were approved. Milford has an active Clean Energy Advisory Board to take advantage of these.

And finally, we address pesticides. In a significant loss, legislators were unable to extend protections beyond the current ones covering K-8 schools so as to cover high schools. Damage to children’s health from pesticides has been a particular concern for environmental groups in Milford over the years, and Hot Air will say more about this setback in a separate column.

Thanks to the Milford lawmakers who supported protective environmental bills and blocked attacks on the environment.