In an era that demands reductions in government spending, there is a growing need for government investment in environmental protection. Sustainability is one of the building blocks of a strong economy and Connecticut has the potential to be a leader in the field.

Clean air and water, clean energy and land and wildlife conservation are all quality of life issues that can make an important difference when it comes to the health of Connecticut residents and the economic vitality of our state.

Private sector companies are demonstrating that investments in production methods with low or zero environmental impact lead to greater productivity, community acceptance and long term financial success.

As the legislature begins its review of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget,  investment in environmental sustainability should be a top concern, and should be reflected in funds allocated to the Department Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

Connecticut’s involvement in the 2008 regional greenhouse gas agreement will lead to at least $500 million in energy cost savings over the next 25 years. This smart use of public resources makes Connecticut more competitive and attracts new opportunity. We should be proud to be the home of the nation’s first green bank and continue to pursue a strong clean energy policy.

Proper investment in policies designed to promote clean air can reduce healthcare costs. Ten percent of Connecticut residents suffer from asthma, an affliction which is caused or made worse by environmental factors such as unhealthy diesel emissions, and higher than acceptable ground level ozone.  Hospital visits for those who suffer from asthma exceed $60 million per year. Our continued pursuit of reduced emissions can cut those costs that we all pay through taxpayer funded healthcare subsidies.

For decades, Connecticut has worked with New York and the federal government to clean up Long Island Sound.  A sustained effort to reduce sewage overflows and storm water run off provides jobs and benefits us all. Oxygen levels in the Sound have improved, providing healthier waters for people, fish and other wildlife that depend on the Sound as a food source. Looking forward, Gov. Malloy and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers are currently backing legislation to create the first comprehensive map of the Sound’s resources ensuring that natural, commercial and recreational uses can continue in the future.

In January, the Malloy administration announced $2 million in state funding to finalize the purchase of 1,000 acres of land on the Connecticut shoreline known as The Preserve. This decision is grounded in sound environmental policy and, as we learned as a result of Super Storm Sandy, will help protect Connecticut from the power of future natural disasters.

This public policy decision should be replicated across Connecticut as part of a sustainability program that puts Connecticut in the lead when it comes to environmental protection and storm resiliency.

Connecticut was one of the first states to establish an agency dedicated to protecting our environment. This was thoughtful policy then and it has become even more critical today. The linking of environmental policies with energy planning is also forward thinking and can be critically important to Connecticut’s economic development potential.

The private sector understands the connection between sustainability and success in the marketplace. Government plays an important role in setting guidelines and goals that create a culture of sustainability.

We urge Gov. Malloy and lawmakers to protect and invest further in DEEP as the best way to promote the state’s economy, the health of its residents and the strength of Connecticut’s natural assets.

Stewart Hudson is executive director of Audubon Connecticut.

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