State of CT’s environment — not so good

There’s not much to celebrate in the Council on Environmental Quality‘s 40th annual report on the Connecticut environment. Aside from a few small improvements, the overall state of things is status quo at best punctuated by backsliding in key areas.

The Council acknowledged in its opening that: “Connecticut’s environment is resistant to improvement,” laying the blame squarely with factors from climate change.

In 2012 there were four more “bad air” days – days during which air quality did not meet healthful standards – than in 2011.The report indicated the pollution was felt most acutely along the coast.

The condition in Long Island Sound known as hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen, worsened dramatically with 73 percent of the Sound showing adequate oxygen versus 88 percent last year. Warm water species have overtaken the more traditional cold-water species and lobster landings were barely measureable.

Beaches were closed fewer days than in 2011. But that year was the worst on record – an average of 10 days. But the 2012 level – an average of 5.6 days – was still well above than the long-term average.

“The data of 2012 contain portents of a warmer Connecticut where air quality declines, sea level rises and storms wash more pollution into rivers, streams and Long Island Sound. Coastal residents experienced all of these warm-weather effects in 2012 more acutely than the average resident,” the report stated bluntly.

In deference to the changing climate, the Council this year overhauled its indicators for measuring the quality of Long Island Sound.

Inland did not fare much better. Land conservation fell far short of its needed pace to reach preservation of 21 percent of the state’s land area by 2023. Forests continued to shrink as they have the last few years after decades of stability. Only 689 acres of farmland were preserved last year compared with 1,975 the year before. Loss of inland wetlands due to development spiked at more than 200 acres after years below 100 acres.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, for which the Council has served as a watchdog since 1971 (when it was still just the Department of Environmental Protection), bristled a bit at the report’s findings. In an email, a spokesman said the department had concerns “that some of the data and conclusions presented do not present an accurate picture of the quality of the environment in Connecticut.”

The statement went on to say that the long-term trend has shown tremendous improvement in all aspects of the state’s environment and that the Council’s yearly data needs to be weighed against the overall trend. “No one would trade the quality of our environment today for that of any other time in recent history,” the statement said.

The Council will make specific recommendations on how to resolve the problems outlined in the report in a few months.

The Council’s sobering news comes as it hangs on by a thread.

In Gov Dannel P. Malloy’s latest budget, it is stripped of one of its two employees and rolled into the Office of Government Accountability instead of in DEEP where it resides now for administrative purposes. It’s better than two years ago though, when the Council was all but eliminated.