CEQ offers legislative priorities for session

It’s a modest, and somewhat familiar, list of legislative priorities released by the Council on Environmental Quality Tuesday in advance of the 2012 legislative session.

Modest in that, with a short session, folks tend to be mindful of realistic expectations — not to mention the current economic climate notable for its distinct lack of money to throw around.

Somewhat familiar in that much of the tiny, 40-year-old environmental watchdog’s wish list was the same last year. Most of it was derailed because the giant energy bill sucked the wind out of many similar efforts and because the CEQ — which has two paid employees and a volunteer board — spent most of its time fighting for its life.

The Council was slated for elimination, first in the consolidation as part of the new Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and then from budget cuts.

“Last year was a difficult year,” said Karl Wagener, CEQ executive director. “Few of our recommendations were adopted. The Council just could not work effectively.”

This year, with the Council still alive (though hit with a small cut in Tuesday’s budget rescissions), there are just over a dozen recommendations, the most important group of which involves efforts to improve the state’s strategy for conserving land.

“The real strategy is to figure out what land is already preserved, what that land is good for and then figure out what we need on top of that,” Wagener said, noting the longstanding state goal of protecting 21 percent of the state’s land area for open space.

The problem, Wagener said, is no one’s sure how far along we are. “We used to think we knew, but we found out we were wrong.”

Among key recommendations are the establishment of a registry of preserved lands and use of no-cost acquisitions through land the state already owns, such as the Southbury Training School, or land being farmed now that is not permanently protected for that purpose. The CEQ also called for maintaining funding for farmland preservation and open space acquisition.

Among other priorities it listed:

  • Requirements that municipal inland wetlands officials receive at least basic training in the regulations.
  • A moratorium on new outdoor wood furnaces until DEEP establishes maximum emissions levels.
  • Maintaining the current Clean Water Fund funding levels.
  • Requiring DEEP to analyze statewide capital requirements for reducing pollution from runoff.
  • Allowing victims of illegal tree cutting to recover costs of replanting and restoration.
  • Stricter controls on all-terrain vehicle use.

“These are things that can be done without causing a lot of hardship,” Wagener said. “They are not major changes, not fiscal in nature so I think they’re appropriate for a short session.”

The CEQ also included an equally long list of suggestions made during public meetings to help formulate the recommendations, some of which Wagener could scoop up for legislative action. Among them:

  • Allowing municipalities and regional governments to regulate the use of pesticides and other sources of nonpoint water pollution.
  • Establishing a “shelf-life” for environmental impact evaluations.
  • Allowing state agencies to pay more for Connecticut Grown products.
  • Improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
  • Reducing allowable impervious pavement.