Gov. Ned Lamont
Gov. Ned Lamont and Commissioner Katie Dykes taking questions from activists. mark Pazniokas /

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order Tuesday that he says will advance Connecticut’s momentum on climate change, but he was challenged to explain the state’s continued reliance on natural gas and its slow pace of financing projects that could mitigate the impact of rising seas and extreme weather.

The executive order he signed at a climate forum in Hartford expands the responsibilities and membership of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change and directs the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to recommend strategies for a carbon-free energy grid by 2040.

As originally formulated in 2015, the council focused primarily on ways to mitigate the carbon emissions contributing to climate change, while Lamont is asking that it also produce a strategy for how the state must adapt to the consequences — primarily rising seas and more powerful storms.

“While the highest levels of our federal government are refusing to accept scientific facts, we need state governments to unite and address one of the most pressing international problem of our times,” Lamont said. “The effects of climate change are impacting our air, water, health, natural resources, economic, and the quality of life of every current and future citizen of Connecticut. We have an obligation to act now.”

Lamont and Katie Dykes, the commissioner of energy and environmental protection, took questions from a generally appreciative audience of nearly 100 environmental activists, lawmakers and industry representatives.

“Katie reminds me every day that climate change is happening faster than we thought,” said Lamont, who archly referred to climate change as “the band formerly known as global warming.”

But some of the attendees politely questioned if the administration was meeting that obligation.

Representatives of the Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy of Connecticut challenged Lamont about the administration’s embrace of new gas-fired power stations as a bridge to a carbon-free future, as well as a “debt diet” that limits available funds for a long list of local and regional projects proposed to make the state more resilient to climate change.

Samantha Dynowski of the Sierra Club told the governor Connecticut is the only state in the region still promoting the conversion of homes and businesses from oil to natural gas, and she warned that environmentalists are hoping to block construction of a new gas-fired power plant in Killingly.

Lamont defended the administration.

The recent opening of PSEG’s gas-fired plant in Bridgeport Harbor will allow the retirement in 2021 of a coal-fired plant next door, and a smaller plant planned for Killingly will help the state reliably meet peak demand, Lamont said.

Dykes said the use of natural gas to generate electricity is a bridge to 2040, when the state hopes that the market will be dominated by off-shore wind, solar and other renewables.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.

David Sutherland, the government relations director of the Nature Conservancy of Connecticut, urged the governor to reconsider his “debt diet,” saying that coastal and riverine communities are ready with projects that could protect property, add public amenities and improve eco-systems.

“I want to join what I assume is a chorus of people saying, ‘I know we have debt diet, but —’ I think it would help immensely if we could loosen even $5 million or $10 million in bonding for some local matching grants for adaptation and resilience projects,” Sutherland said.

Lamont said he has to limit state bonding until he and the legislature agree on a funding source to maintain the solvency of the Special Transportation Fund, which pays for transportation operating expenses and debt service on infrastructure programs.

Gov. Ned Lamont

The governor’s proposal for highway tolls was a non-starter in the General Assembly, which means that transportation projects could be competing for bonding funds with a host of other needs, including a backlog of climate resiliency projects that can cost as little as $15,000 and as much as $4 million.

Adam Whelchel, the conservancy’s science director, said in an interview that 490 projects in 39 communities have been identified, ranging from inexpensive rain gardens and swales to multi-million-dollar projects to restore beaches, dunes and other shoreline features that can provide natural buffers to rising seas and create public amenities.

One $2 million project in West Haven would restore the state’s longest public beach, improve wildlife habitat and protect the homes and condominiums behind the beach, he said.

Resilience projects can be expected to save $4 for every dollar spent, he said.

“It’s smart money now. Why pay twice? That’s what it’s all about. So $5 million today is $20 million in avoid costs,” Whelchel said.

Lamont said he is aware of the economics. Only a late shift in the winds during Sandy, a “superstorm” downgraded to a tropical storm when it hit Connecticut, saved electric substations in Bridgeport from being inundated, Lamont said.

The governor agreed that Connecticut must pursue resilience projects, and he thanked advocates for pointing him and his administration in the right direction.

“You keep our eye on the North Star,” he said.

The executive order is Lamont’s third. His first created a “Lead by Example” sustainability initiative that directs state agencies to make their operations greener and more energy efficient.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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  1. It is ironic, yet encouraging, that denial and inaction at the federal level is encouraging innovation at the state level. In many states, States Rights is now including action to protect and prepare its citizens, property, economy and infrastructure for climate change where the Federal government is not.

  2. Lamont’s administration talks out of both sides of their mouth. While they tout being pro-climate change and pro-economic development, they are requiring unrealistic requirements on solar projects for stormwater with the secretive and illegally enforced “Appendix I” to the stormwater regs. At the same time, they are constantly railing against distributed solar in Connecticut which brings jobs jobs jobs! Latest is their attempt to secretly come up with a value of distributed energy by allowing ex parte communications with stakeholders during the proceeding which is unprecedented!

    1. Does that mean that DEEP and PURA can do want they want in secret without public scrutiny? I thought Lamont ran on transparency and not doing things the same old way? Please explain..

  3. Until we have massive utility reform, Ct will continue to limp along, despite this fluff being presented. DEEP has consistently shown bias towards protecting Eversource’s profits, which is why we have the least amount of solar in the Northeast. The new expanded commission is all the same people and agencies that we have had for the ten years. More of the same old same old. Legislators take their cue from DEEP/PURA. DEEP /PURA takes its cue from Eversource. RESULT: We all pay more.

  4. Eversource already has a monopoly on Electricity, Natural Gas, and Drinking Water, in the Southern End of the State. So, your suggestion is to eliminate the only alternative heating fuel, other than Propane. What do you think you will pay for Natural Gas and Electricity if that happens?

  5. “… its slow pace of financing projects that could mitigate the impact of rising seas and extreme weather.”

    And yet, lurking in the transportation discussions, is talk about investing in one of 2 coastal airports to provide better options for Southern Connecticut. With the highest elevation airport at 12′ above sea level being Tweed-New Haven, investing in expanding services and extending runways makes no long-term sense. Assuming of course that sea levels will indeed rise. Perhaps caution in this regard is justified.

  6. Remains unclear how environmental efforts will positively affect our decade long stagnant economy/employment levels. CT’s traditional high electric/energy costs discourage new business, especially mfg. in our large cities.

    1. Solar and other renewable efforts are the fastest growing job creators in the country. We could have that here in CT, plus new tax revue for the state, (all from the private sector to boot) yet DEEP feels that letting Eversource maintain its very expensive monopoly is better. Go figure.

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