Hundreds Clean Up Connecticut Shores with Major Progress Seen

Hundreds Clean Up Connecticut Shores with Major Progress Seen

An estimated 1,000 volunteers showed up to shorelines throughout Connecticut to help put an end to water pollution during the annual International Coastal Cleanup hosted by the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound. Volunteers could choose among more than 20 beach clean-up communities in Connecticut.

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CT's New Plastic Bag Tax Will Greet Consumers at Pharmacies, Too

CT's New Plastic Bag Tax Will Greet Consumers at Pharmacies, Too

As Connecticut imposes a 10 cents tax on single-use plastic bags beginning August 1, most of the attention has been on food stores, but the new tax applies more broadly.  Stop at your local pharmacy to pick up a prescription along with a few additional items, and that same tax will greet you at the checkout counter.

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East Haddam Artist Residency Noted Internationally on Earth Day

East Haddam Artist Residency Noted Internationally on Earth Day

The international Earth Day Network, marking the 49th annual Earth Day, is recognizing programs and initiatives around the world that are furthering public awareness of, and participation in, environmental initiatives.   Among the 21 programs world-wide identified as noteworthy Art & Ecology Residencies – programs supporting artists engaged in the environmental cause – is one in East Haddam, CT.

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Deju Vu As Advocates for More Vibrant Tweed Descend on Capitol

A public hearing this month on a proposal to “eliminate the restriction on the length of Runway 2-20 at Tweed-New Haven Airport, was, in some ways, deju vu all over again, as advocates for ramping up flights in and out of Tweed came to the State Capitol to urge action. A decade ago, in 2009, supporters of the regional airport came to the Capitol seeking state funds to fuel growth.  This year, the focus is on runway expansion to do the same.  The common thread: economic development.

“To realize the region’s full potential as a destination, the airport must improve its infrastructure to support an expanded schedule of flights to additional destinations,” said Ginny Kozlowsi, then president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Convention & visitors Bureau, in 2009.

This month, she was back at the Capitol, as executive director of REX Development:  “The retention and recruitment of businesses are essential for the economic success of Connecticut.  With the limited flights currently available at Tweed new Haven Regional Airport, it is difficult for companies in Southern Connecticut to access current clients, attract talent and secure more business.”

In testimony this month, Garrett Sheehan, the president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that “The ability to bring people to New Haven and efficiently travel to other locations would greatly improve if Tweed New Haven Airport had additional flights and destinations. It is our expectation that expanding the runway from 5600 feet to 6600 feet, within the airport’s existing footprint, will open the door for new commercial service at Tweed.”

Sheehan noted that today “business is conducted on a global scale. The New Haven region is home to thriving manufacturers, biotech companies, tech startups, and other important businesses. These companies have employees that travel regularly and customers and suppliers who need to visit.”

He named the local organizations and businesses supporting what he described as “a better Tweed”: Avangrid, Alexion, Arts Council of Greater New Haven, Arvinas, ASSA ABLOY, Biorez, CA White, CT Bio, CT Tourism Coalition, DISTRICT New Haven, Ferguson & McGuire Insurance, Fitstyle by Shana, Marcum, My Language Link, New Haven Manufacturing Association, Prometheus Research, Radiall USA, Inc., Regional Water Authority, Technolutions, The Outtrim Group, Ulbrich Stainless Steels and Special Metals, and Yale New Haven Health.

One of them, ASSA ABLOY, testified ten years ago, when vice president Jack Dwyer stated:  “A clear function of business travel efficiency is proximity to an airport…and having Tweed as a viable alternative is viewed by our management team and owners as being a factor in our ongoing and future success.”

In its testimony this month, Yale New Haven Health senior vice president Vin Petrini, chief policy and communications officer, pointed out that “Yale New Haven Health is currently the largest private employer in Connecticut with more than 25,000 employees located in nearly every town, city and legislative district in the State. We also have the distinction of being the State’s largest taxpayer having paid more than $300 million in provider taxes last year alone.”

Petrini said “Tweed represents the second most underserved region in the nation,” stating that action on the legislation would unleash a “key linchpin in the economic future of the region and the state of Connecticut.”

Ryan Duques, chairman of Madison’s Economic Development Commission, a tech startup managing partner and the former publisher of 15 Connecticut newspapers, and told lawmakers that “Tweed is vital to the economic sustainability of south-central Connecticut,” adding that “it is our expectation that this change will open the door for new commercial service at Tweed with additional destinations and flights.”

The words of former Southern Connecticut State University president Cheryl Norton a decade ago could easily have been said this month: “a robust regional airport would provide another travel option to our crowded roadways and trains.”

Ratepayers, Businesses, and Environmental Advocates Seek to Reverse Decision on Ratepayer Fund Raids

Attorneys for ratepayers, efficiency businesses and environmental organizations have filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York , asking the appellate court to reverse an October 25 U.S. District Court decision that denied plaintiffs a remedy in their lawsuit to force the State of Connecticut to restore $145 million in ratepayer dollars intended to save families money on energy bills and reduce climate pollution. The original lawsuit, filed in May, was filed to stop the state legislature’s 2017 sweep of Connecticut’s energy efficiency and clean energy funds, and to prevent future diversions of ratepayer funds. The original complaint argued that diverting ratepayer funding to plug a budget deficit instead of using the dedicated funds for its intended purpose violates the Contract Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and functions as an illegal tax on tax-exempt organizations like churches and nonprofits.

“We are pursuing the case to fix the damage the raids have done to Connecticut families and businesses,” said Roger Reynolds, chief legal director at Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “Residents trusted that their ratepayer dollars would go where their electric bills said they would—towards energy efficiency and clean energy programs that save money and cut climate pollution. Instead those hard-earned dollars were used to plug a hole in the state budget. We believe the appellate court will see that the state’s action violated federal contract and tax law, and ask them to correct that mistake to put Connecticut back on the path to a healthier energy future and a stronger economy.”

Judge Janet C. Hall at the U.S. District Court in New Haven ruled in October that the state’s 2017 budget that swept ratepayer funds did not impair contracts between ratepayers and their electric distribution companies because neither utility tariffs nor state law ever promised ratepayers that their dollars would not be transferred to the General Fund for unrelated purposes.

The organizations filing the suit pointed out that when the General Assembly found itself facing a deficit in fall 2017, they passed a budget instructing the state to “sweep” and divert the energy efficiency and clean energy funds to the general fund. However, these funds are not government property, they stressed,  and were not raised through state taxes but were paid by ratepayers to utilities for specific services. Therefore, "seizing these funds amounts to taking ratepayer funds that were paid for another purpose."

As a result of the "raids", the filers of the lawsuit pointed out that "12,900 homes will not receive energy assessments, weatherization upgrades, reduced pricing on insulation, or associated energy bill savings. Furthermore, 5,600 of these are low income households that often require additional financial assistance to close the energy affordability gap.  The award-winning Connecticut Green Bank leverages $6 in private investment for every $1 of renewable energy funding. Yet these sweeps resulted in a 53% reduction in this program’s budget, requiring layoffs and project cancellations."

This case raises an important legal issue relevant beyond Connecticut, according to environment groups,  because it is the first time ratepayers argued in court that when they pay their utility bills with surcharges dedicated for specific programs or services—such as energy efficiency and renewable energy—enforceable contracts arise that cannot be invaded by any state.

"Connecticut’s leaders broke the trust of their constituents when they turned electric ratepayer dollars into an illegal tax,” said lead plaintiff Leticia Colon de Mejias, chair of Efficiency For All (EFA) and founder. “Even in these difficult times, it is obvious that stealing ratepayer funds intended to help Connecticut residents and businesses reduce energy waste, save money on energy bills, and access clean resources is a bad choice."

“Sierra Club Connecticut supports this legal appeal by Connecticut Fund for the Environment and allies, and the advocacy of groups including Efficiency for All, to restore the misappropriated energy efficiency monies that our General Assembly voted to take away and use as a stop gap for our budget woes" said Martha Klein, chair, Sierra Club Connecticut. "It was a myopic mistake, as these funds have been proven to create jobs, make revenue for the state, and reduce climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions. This type of fund raiding hurts all of us in the long run. That money was taken from ratepayers specifically to improve the efficiency of our whole state, which would save all of us money on energy costs, and improve our health and climate.”

When the initial suit was filed against the state back in May, Governor Malloy  issued a statement that, rather than defending the state action, seemed to take the opposite view:

"This should come as a surprise to no one. I have long maintained that these shortsighted sweeps would increase energy costs for consumers and businesses and cause untold harm to our green energy economy. [W]e should be cementing our role as a national leader in our efforts to combat climate change and protect our communities. The energy sweeps . . . represented a massive step backwards, and I continue to strongly oppose them," Malloy said.

Norwalk Joins Sustainable CT Effort

Norwalk is the latest Connecticut municipality to join Sustainable CT, a statewide initiative that offers detailed array of sustainability best practices, tools and resources, peer learning, and opportunities for recognition.The Sustainable CT platform supports a broad range of actions, such as improving watershed management, supporting arts and creative culture, reducing energy use and increasing renewable energy, implementing “complete streets” (streets that meet the needs of walkers and bikers as well as cars), improving recycling programs, assessing climate vulnerability, supporting local businesses, and providing efficient and diverse housing options.   “I am delighted the city has joined Sustainable CT in our latest efforts to develop and implement sustainability and renewable energy initiatives in Norwalk,” said Mayor Harry Rilling. “Being energy conscience is the right thing to do as we all have a moral obligation to lessen our environmental impact. I am glad the city has taken a leadership role and joined this important sustainability initiative.”  Norwalk’s Council approved the resolution to join Sustainable CT in mid-August and designated the Common Council Planning Committee as the “Sustainability Team” for the program. Norwalk was officially registered with Sustainable CT on August 24.

The Sustainable CT initiative was developed under the leadership of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University in partnership with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

There is no cost to participate and communities voluntarily select actions that meet their unique, local character and long-term vision. After successful implementation of a variety of actions, municipalities will be eligible for Sustainable CT certification. According to the organization’s vision statement, “Sustainable CT communities strive to be thriving, resilient, collaborative, and forward-looking. They build community and local economy. They equitably promote the health and well-being of current and future residents, and they respect the finite capacity of the natural environment.”

“We are thrilled that Norwalk has passed a resolution to join Sustainable CT. The program builds on many current success stories in our communities to create and support more great places to live, work, and play,” said Lynn Stoddard, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy. “We are looking forward to working with the city as they pursue Sustainable CT certification."

The town of Thomaston joined the initiative in July. Three Connecticut philanthropies - The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, the Hampshire Foundation, and the Common Sense Fund – have supported the program's development and launch.

Education, Individual Impact Drive Mission of New Climate Change Center

Former Connecticut Commissioner of Environmental Protection and Administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy has made the shift from government to academia, with the launch of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. C-CHANGE is a new collaboration between Harvard University and Google that will seek to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in building products and materials.  C-CHANGE is committed to transforming science into meaningful actions that will deliver a healthier, more just, and sustainable world, according to the university.

The Center aims to ensure that government officials, business leaders, and the public have access to the best science so they can understand the health and environmental challenges they face, why it matters to them, and how they can get engaged.

McCarthy headed the Connecticut DEP from 2004 to early 2009, and left to become head of EPA's air and radiation office before advancing to the nation’s top environmental protection job in 2013.

Appearing on Conversations on Health Care, a podcast produced by Middletown-based Community Health Center Inc., McCarthy discussed past, present and future.  On the program, hosted by President and Co-founder Mark Masselli and Senior Vice President and Clinical Director Margaret Flinter, McCarthy said C-CHANGE was working to make climate change “very personal, and actionable to individuals, and families and businesses.”  She added, “information is power… I want people to have that information.”

McCarthy said she understands the concerns of some in the environmental community regarding Trump Administration efforts to roll back many of the Obama-era policies, but she said it will be tougher to accomplish than most believe.

“What we did was follow the science, we followed the law, we did great public process around it and I think we did a really good job,” McCarthy said, noting that many of the rule-change proposals of the past year or so are not yet final, and may not become final. “They’re going to have a very hard time.”

Her work at C-CHANGE is designed to accelerate and strengthen public education on climate change and pollution issues, bringing the science down to the individual level, highlighting the impacts on people, rather than the planet.

Reflecting on her time leading EPA, McCarthy said “We showed you can make progress environmentally, to preserve and protect public health, and our natural resources, but you can also, at the same time, do them in very cost effective, reasonable ways that in fact enhanced our economy and jobs.”

Last spring, Gov. Malloy appointed McCarthy to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Green Bank.

At the C-CHANGE kick-off this spring, Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams said “The Center will pave the way for new research and student engagement on energy systems, food and nutrition, healthier buildings, and products to benefit our school, our country, and the world.”  McCarthy spoke about the importance of broadening support for environmental and climate action by calling attention to the impact of climate change on people’s health and the solutions to address it.

“Climate change isn’t about saving the planet and it’s not about politics, it’s about our kids and making sure they have the opportunity for a healthy, sustainable world,” said McCarthy. “C-CHANGE will ensure that cutting-edge science produced by Harvard Chan School is actionable—that the public understands it, and that it gets into the hands of decision-makers so that science drives decisions.”

C-CHANGE, the Harvard Office for Sustainability, and Google will work together to develop a set of public tools and resources that use the latest scientific research to inform decision-making by large institutions, purchasers, and manufacturers to help transform the marketplace to healthier alternatives. The collaboration,  to the university, aims to improve public health and the well-being of communities, reduce the use of harmful chemicals and leverage lessons learned to create a model that can be replicated by other organizations.

Moving forward, the two groups intend to continue partnering with Harvard’s schools to use the campus as a living lab to test new ideas and verify performance.