Malloy sets environmental goals against state’s budget woes

BRANFORD — Democratic gubernatorial contender Dan Malloy wants Connecticut to upgrade its wastewater treatment plants, invest in public transportation, clean polluted sites and encourage alternative energy sources.

Those wants and wishes face the same obstacle as many of Malloy’s other priorities:  the state budget deficit.

Malloy, who presented his environmental platform Tuesday in this coastal town with his running mate, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, said the fiscal crisis shouldn’t stop gubernatorial candidates from setting goals and defining their priorities on crucial issues.

“We need to kind of focus people’s attention on the environment,” he said during a mid-day press conference in front of a natural gas-fired, tri-generation plant that has provided Branford High School with heating, cooling and low-cost electricity for the past two years. “We wanted to speak in specific terms.”

Malloy, Wyman 07-06

Nancy Wyman, Dan Malloy outside Branford High School.                                       (Keith M. Phaneuf)

Malloy called Long Island Sound “one of Connecticut’s most beautiful and iconic natural resources.” He noted that, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, it contributes $8 billion to the regional economy, yet it’s being choked by 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage each year.

And though he declared investing in sewage treatment plant upgrades and other clean water initiatives a priority, state government has fallen far short of recommended funding levels in this area, despite an increase in the current year.

Established in 1986 to provide communities with grants and loans to improve wastewater-treatment, the fund has suffered from “historically, unprecedented low bonding authorizations” during the first five years of the past decade, according to a 2007 report from the state’s Clean Water Fund Advisory Work Group.

“At no time in the 20 year history of the Clean Water Fund has the demand for construction funding been higher,” it wrote, adding that the state Department of Environmental Protection estimated wastewater infrastructure needs of nearly $5 billion dollars over the next twenty years.

The legislature and Gov. M. Jodi Rell authorized $80 million in bonding for the program last fiscal year, and $120 million in 2010-11.

Though Connecticut’s next governor is projected to inherit a $3.37 billion deficit, Malloy said “there’s a substantial opportunity” to leverage more federal aid for clean water initiatives, adding he would be more aggressive than Rell in going to Washington to seek those funds. Rell generally has avoided networking trips to the U.S. capital.

Malloy said he would ensure the DEP has enough resources to hold polluters accountable, and he would support incentives for businesses that employ rain-collection barrels, gardens and other “green” measures to limit storm water runoff.

The former mayor of Stamford, whose hometown is located amid one of the state’s most congested transportation networks, said that “broken” system, coupled with energy inefficient buildings, and polluting power generators, creates most of Connecticut’s air pollution.

Malloy also promised to fight for more federal transportation aid, but the state’s $1.1 billion Special Transportation Fund is projected to fall into deficit by 2012. State officials have diverted more than $125 million in fuel-tax revenues to support non-transportation spending for the past six fiscal years and reserved $108 million for this purpose this fiscal year, according to budget records.

Besides fighting for more federal transportation dollars, Malloy said he would support public transportation improvements, which also rely heavily on state and federal dollars, and would support advanced energy codes to make new state buildings more energy efficient.

To help communities pay for the clean-up and restoration of heavily polluted sites formerly used for industry, Malloy said he would create a revolving $500-million loan fund to be replenished once abandoned parcels are again hosting new business ventures and generating revenue.

Malloy, who is battling Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont in a Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign, said Tuesday that he differs from his rival on environmental policy when it comes to the wind turbine industry.

Connecticut needs to make greater use of wind energy, but windmills make more sense along the shoreline rather than out in the Sound, where the apparatus would threaten shellfish and other aquatic life while interfering with barge and other nautical traffic.

“It would be a hazard and an impediment to an enormous piece of our economy,” he said.

Lamont has not ruled out wind turbine projects in the Sound, and his campaign issued a brief response saying Lamont is determined to make Connecticut a leader in the field of alternative energy.

“Ned understands that we need to explore every opportunity that offers our families relief from crushing energy costs,” campaign spokeswoman Justine Sessions said in an emailed statement. “We’re already behind our neighboring states when it comes to exploring clean energy sources like offshore wind, and we owe it to Connecticut’s families and businesses to leave no stone unturned.”