CEQ barely hangs on in governor’s budget

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget leaves the Council on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental watchdog, hanging on by its fingernails.

Its two employees are down to one, and it’s been rolled into the Office of Government Accountability along with a number of other boards and commissions in a streamlining and money-saving move.

But that’s a whole lot better than the situation the council faced two years ago when it was pretty much left for dead: Both employees were axed, though the council technically was alive within the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

That proposal resulted in a lot of head scratching because the CEQ’s chief watchdog object is DEEP. Ultimately CEQ was saved, though moved into DEEP for administrative purposes.

CEQ Executive Director Karl Wagener, who has held his position for 27 years, said he’d had no official communication about the move. “As I read it, unless there’s some language somewhere I haven’t seen, they’re moving the council with an independent voice to a different agency,” he said.

The council budget right now is $164,415. After the move to OGA, its budget would be just over $106,000.

The council was created in 1971 along with the state Department of Environmental Protection to monitor the department by assessing the state’s environmental conditions and making improvement recommendations, to advise all state departments on environmental impacts of their projects and to investigate environment-related complaints.

Its annual report is well-regarded as a useful broad picture of the state’s environment, what’s been accomplished and what needs work. It has long offered citizens an outlet for environmental complaints of all sorts. For that reason many have argued it is especially necessary to keep CEQ fully operational in lean budget times.

“My primary interest is making sure Council itself will provide an independent voice,” Wagener said.

As for the perception that this tiniest of agencies seems to operate with a perpetual target on its back, Wagener said: “No comment.”