5 environmental issues to watch in Connecticut’s legislative session

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That effort, the Transportation Climate Initiative, is not on Lamont’s agenda this year as lawmakers begin a short legislative session that will last until May 4.

Despite the short time frame for action on the state budget and a few other important items such as crime and health care reform, lawmakers and lobbyists who deal with environmental issues say they are preparing to do push aggressively for a short list of policies this year. At the top of their list are things like reducing truck emissions and new regulations to reduce the waste filling the state’s landfills and incinerators.

“Climate and waste are the two big areas our lawmakers need to take seriously this session,” said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters. “We were really upset that not enough was done on the climate last year.”

Brown pointed to the planned closure of the MIRA plant in Hartford, one of Connecticut’s largest waste-to-energy incinerators, as evidence that the state is increasingly taking cleaning up its air problems seriously. and waste. Still, she said the plant’s closure will force officials to make new decisions about where to send the waste, as well as where to place new polluting factories in years to come.

Here are some of the policies related to climate change, recycling and other environmental issues that lawmakers say could become law this year:

Emission reductions

With talks about joining a regional climate initiative shelved for the time being, leaders of the General Assembly’s environment committee said they would instead focus on cutting carbon emissions through new technologies. new regulations imposed on vehicles purchased or registered within Connecticut’s borders.

On Thursday, Lamont proposed legislation to adopt California’s emission standards on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles — essentially vehicles that range in weight from a typical delivery truck to an 18-wheeler. Under the Clean Air Act, states can either adhere to federal standards or stricter rules set by California to regulate vehicle emissions.

Connecticut already requires emissions testing for light trucks such as domestic pickup trucks, however, vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds are exempt from testing.

California passed the tougher emissions standards for trucks in 2020, requiring manufacturers and dealers to start selling zero-emission trucks in 2024 and gradually increase quotas for zero-emission sales through 2035.

That effort overcame opposition from the trucking and oil industries, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Both industries were the main opponents of the TCI initiative, which they successfully described as a gas tax at a time when inflation was already raising prices at the pump.

In addition to focusing on truck emissions, Democratic lawmakers have also proposed changes to the state’s Clean Air Act to encourage sales of more electric vehicles, while Lamont’s administration seeks to phase out emissions. greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by mid-century, at an estimated cost of $5.5 billion.

Environment Committee Co-Chair Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said last week she was confident lawmakers could get enough support to pass a combination of these proposals and “address a lot of the things that could have been addressed in the ICT if that had been the case”. crossed the finish line. »

Extended Producer Responsibility

While any effort to reduce emissions by regulating gas-guzzling vehicles and power plants is likely to spark a partisan showdown, both sides have expressed an interest in cleaning up Connecticut’s environment through rules known as accountability. extension of producers.

The concept essentially requires that the manufacturers or distributors – the producers – of certain hard-to-dispose products like mattresses or tires take greater responsibility for their discarded products, so that they do not end up clogging landfills and recycling centers that are not equipped to handle them.

Connecticut already has five EPR programs for mattresses, mercury thermometers, architectural paint, home electronics and rechargeable batteries. The programs are widely popular with local authorities because they remove some of the burden caused by illegal dumping on public lands and in municipal landfills.

For example, a bill that would have created EPR programs for tires, propane cylinders and smoke detectors last year received support from more than a dozen towns along the river valley. Lower Connecticut, after area leaders complained about the spillage of products along the river.

The Environment Committee’s other co-chair, state Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, said the legislation, which he sponsored, did not garner enough support to overcome opposition from the tire industry.

However, he said there was less opposition to an EPR program for propane cylinders and that he would likely introduce two separate bills this year to cover tires and propane tanks, hoping that one of them would be adopted.

“The industry needs to step up, and we hope to adopt something that will be accepted by the industry and that will be suitable for customers,” Gresko said.

bear hunting

Legalizing bear hunting has been an idea that has been swirling around Hartford for years, only to fail in the face of opposition from animal rights groups.

However, encounters with black bears continued to make headlines in nearly every corner of the state last year – even prompting state wildlife officials to urge residents to take their bird feeders – so it is possible that calls for a hunting season will resurface this session.

A leading supporter of a bear hunt in Connecticut, Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, did not return calls seeking comment on the matter. Miner is one of the GOP’s ranking members on the environment committee.

The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has remained open to the idea of ​​allowing hunting as a way to cull Connecticut’s growing black bear population, resulting in more encounters with humans.

“DEEP is interested in the full range of options available to help cope with a growing bear population and bear habituation,” agency spokesman Will Healey said in a statement. communicated. “Hunting is a possible tool in the toolbox. Another is to increase our educational efforts to help residents get used to living with bears.

DEEP estimates there are about 1,200 black bears living in Connecticut, Healey said.

Among Connecticut’s neighbors, New York, New Jersey, and all New England states except Rhode Island have a bear hunting season, which usually takes place in the fall.

Ban on single-use plastics

Environment committee leaders said they also hope to resurrect last year’s legislation that would have phased out single-use plastic straws and styrofoam containers from restaurants by 2023.

The bill also would have required school districts to phase out the use of foam lunch trays.

The legislation passed the Environment Committee in a 2021 party vote, but failed to gain traction in the House or Senate after facing opposition from Republicans and the restaurant industry, who argued that the proposed ban would come at the wrong time. for restaurants already reeling from the pandemic.

To allay those concerns, Gresko said he and other supporters of the legislation would likely give the restaurant industry more time to phase out the use of single-use plastics and styrofoam containers.

“We were in the middle of a pandemic and the restaurant industry was suffering as it is,” Gresko said. “If we push back the date [of the ban] far enough away for them to use the products they have, allowing them to explore other options.

On Friday, Scott Dolch, president of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, could not be reached for comment.

It was also estimated that the legislation would cost school districts across the state between $2 million and $2.8 million to phase out the use of single-use polystyrene lunch trays.

Environmental Justice

One of the legislature’s leading supporters of Connecticut’s decades-old environmental justice laws, state Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, said he would seek further improvements to the law after passing legislation in 2020 that forces low-income communities to have more of a say in the placement of polluting industries like power plants and landfills

The DEEP policy dating back to 1993 has been to prevent any community from having to “bear a disproportionate share of the risks and consequences of environmental pollution”.

Reyes, however, blamed the agency for failing to prevent the expansion of a refuse transfer station in the south Waterbury borough in 2018, despite the “noise, rubbish and dirt that was already in decline in this area.

“The Environmental Justice Act failed us in Waterbury when we went to use it,” Reyes said.

Reyes said he has since offered each session updates to the state’s environmental justice laws, with varying success.

“Every year I invest, sometimes it goes and sometimes it doesn’t,” Reyes said. “I will always continue to plead until I believe the State of Connecticut is doing it right.”

This year, Reyes said his efforts will focus on giving DEEP “more teeth” to impose fines and corrective action on polluters who have violated the Environmental Justice Act.


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