With so much attention paid to gun safety and the budget, not much was heard about the environment in the 2013 session of the General Assembly. Much of what was in the news centered on a somewhat arcane debate whether the state weakened its commitment to the development of renewable sources of energy by including large-scale (read: HydroQuebec) hydropower in the mix, in some circumstances.
Hopefully state officials will use the law wisely and keep promoting the local production of wind, solar and other such renewable sources.
But while that debate was going on, a raft of good environmental legislation sailed through the Capitol. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty at a press briefing last week about the new laws, and they have something to talk about.
•One of the biggest environmental victories was the commitment of nearly $1 billion to the Clean Water Fund in the next two years to continue the work of keeping raw sewage and related chemicals out of the state's rivers and Long Island Sound.
This is such a good investment. Keeping the Sound clean keeps the beaches open and creates jobs in tourism, fishing and shellfishing and in the reconstruction of sewage treatment plants. Healing the Sound is something we can and should do for future generations.
But on the subject of water, we were sorry to see a proposal for a statewide drinking water study — prior to the possible enactment of such proposals as one that would bring Farmington Valley drinking water to UConn — fail to pass. This state is notoriously averse to planning, even when it would be helpful.
•The state took the first steps to streamline and improve its brownfield cleanup program, a key to revitalizing urban areas. The idea is to move away from a system largely triggered by transfer of ownership of contaminated property to one more focused on the risk the contamination poses to the public.
• Mattresses will now be recycled, under a law that makes several improvements to the state's recycling program. For example, it encourages the capture of organic wastes, now 30 percent of the waste stream.
• The serious storms of the last few years have brought shoreline communities face to face with the realities of climate change and sea level rise. Several bills begin the difficult process of preparing for and adapting to these changes. But remembering the state's aversion to planning, this could be a long slog.
• Among several energy efficiency bills, one allows for "submetering" of residences and businesses that use certain renewable energy sources or a cogeneration system that produces heat and electricity. This hopefully will resolve problems such as that faced by the developer of 360 State Street, the 500-unit building in New Haven, who in effect was not allowed to use a fuel cell to power the entire building because regulators would not approve a meter in each apartment.
• One of the really stellar environmental achievements to come from the session was the commitment of $20 million each to two open space acquisition programs. The best way to stop sprawl is to control the land that would otherwise be sprawled upon, and prices tend to be lower in a down economy.
There were a number of other environmental bills; this was one of the best sessions for the environment in years. Of course it wasn't perfect. Some funds were raided that should have been left alone, some areas will need attention next year. One is transit-oriented development.
The CTfastrak busway is scheduled to come online in two years, followed in 2016 by the New Haven- Hartford-Springfield commuter rail service. Creating development within a half-mile of these lines, and in the town centers they serve, will improve the state's environment considerably.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun