-“From Climate Change, Trump Policies, State Cuts”
Connecticut’s environment showed little improvement in 2016 and is facing a risky future involving climate change, state funding shortages, and worrisome federal policy shifts, according to a watchdog agency’s latest report.
The state’s Council on Environmental Quality’s annual report warned that Connecticut’s air, land and water quality doesn’t appear to be getting much better despite all the programs underway at the state and local levels.
Lawmakers and the CEQ’s executive director, Karl Wagener, warned that staffing cutbacks at the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection agency have become so severe that the agency can no longer properly do its job.
“It’s pretty clear they can’t do everything they’re supposed to do,” Wagener said at a Wednesday news conference.
“The DEEP is at a tipping point in its ability to meet its obligations,” said State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport.
DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain acknowledged Wednesday that, “With state budget challenges over the past several years, we have faced reductions in staff through attrition, which has had some impact on our operations.”
But Schain said the agency has tried to compensate “by prioritizing our activities to make certain the most significant and serious threats to the environment and public health are addressed in a timely and effective manner.” He said streamlining procedures and improved technology are also helping to ease the staffing crunch.
Susan Merrow, chair of the council, said it is “particularly alarming” that the DEEP’s pesticide unit performed fewer than half of the normal number of inspections in 2016. “They just do not have the staff to do the inspections she said.”
Wagener said the decline in state environmental inspections has occurred in all areas of the agency’s responsibilities, including water and air pollution issues.
More than 200 staffing positions were cut from this state’s environmental protection units between 2008 and 2016, according to DEEP records.
President Donald Trump’s plans to make dramatic reductions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and in federal funding for programs such as those for Long Island Sound could also create major troubles for Connecticut, according to CEQ officials.
Representatives of more than a dozen Connecticut environmental groups showed up at the news conference to voice support for the council and the warnings contained in the new annual report.
Although the report doesn’t mention it, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has recommended that funding for the council itself be abolished as part of Malloy’s plan to deal with a major state deficit. Several environmental activists at the news conference urged lawmakers not to chop the CEQ’s funding at a time when they said the watchdog agency is needed more than ever.
Merrow also warned that Connecticut drivers used more gasoline last year than in 2015 even though they didn’t drive more miles. The council’s conclusion is that Connecticut consumers are buying and driving more low-mileage vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks, Wagener said, resulting in higher gasoline use.
“It will be extremely challenging for Connecticut to meet its climate change goals unless vehicle efficiency is improved,” the CEQ report warned. Pollution from transportation-related sources is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases in Connecticut.
“The environment isn’t responding as well as people would like,” said Wagener, the council’s executive director. “And we’re warning that things could get worse.”
“The potential for retreat is an unusual and regrettable reality,” the report reads in part. The council’s conclusion is that “gains already made are now in peril.”
The report cites climate change as a key factor that is preventing Connecticut from reaching its goals to improve air and water quality and clean up Long Island Sound.
Connecticut isn’t preserving enough open space lands to meet its stated goals, acquiring under 600 acres in 2016, the council’s research showed.
“If Connecticut wants to advance and achieve the ambitious [environmental] goals it set for itself, something beyond the current programs will be required,” the report warns.
“There is no doubt that there are constraints on DEEP’s resources and there is data showing that we face difficulties meeting some environmental goals,” Schain said in response to the CEQ’s report. But he also pointed out that Connecticut has made substantial environmental gains in the past 40 years and that, “The quality of our air, water and lands is better than ever.”
From – Courant