Lawmakers scolded state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Amey Marrella for not being prepared Monday at an informational briefing on the tension between the business and environmental communities.
Marrella presented the Environment Committee with an overview of the DEP’s responsibilities both to the state and federal government. The committee, however, was expecting Marrella to address concerns from the business community that the DEP has been enforcing guidance statements as regulations.
“Now the General Assembly is going to be out of business legally in a little over two weeks and I am concerned that, with the time that you’ve had, that you haven’t joined the issue here and that you’re putting us in a very difficult position by not joining the issue,” Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Meyer said, had made specific charges regarding the DEP overstepping its bounds by regulating through guidance statements. “It’s a very good legal discussion you gave us but with respect to the charges being made I don’t think you’ve answered that and I’m concerned.”
Guidance statements outline how businesses “should” interpret and comply with DEP regulations, whereas businesses “must” comply with regulations. Regulations require legislative review under state law, while guidance statements do not.
Meyer said that by failing to address those concerns with the clock running out on the legislative session, the DEP gave committee members justification to pass a bill on the floor that could put the department at a disadvantage.
The committee approved a bill in March that would have allowed affected parties to petition the Regulations Review Committee to review DEP guidance statements or policies when they believe that the statements constitute regulation. That bill is on the Senate calendar. Meyer and others said they only approved the bill reluctantly.
Marrella apologized a number of times during the briefing. She said she takes seriously business concerns raised during testimony on the bill before the committee.
But Marrella added that the 21 guidance statements raised as examples during testimony equal 1,250 pages and, without specific pages or sections mentioned, her department has to make its “best guess at what the problems are through our internal review” while it awaits more feedback from stakeholders. However, contrary to Marrella’s statement, CBIA made specific complaints but only mentioned specific sections in regard to one guidance statement.
“I will tell you quite honestly that my feedback so far is that there are areas that we’re going to need to fix. I’m not going to come back to you and say ‘a hundred percent, it’s all guidance, don’t understand where the problem is.’” She said that the DEP is still trying to determine where the problems are: whether in the wording of guidance statements or in their implementation.
Meyer appeared unsatisfied by the explanation and again pointed to the dwindling legislative session. “The fact that you haven’t even responded to any of the 21 documents or any of the 12 sections that are set forth in the Connecticut Business and Industry Association memorandum is troubling to us,” Meyer said.
Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, who voted against the bill in March, said he found the general overview helpful but that he had reserved time for a briefing on how the DEP is addressing the issue.
Roraback said that while he wasn’t “ready to take that leap ” that the bill was necessary, discomfort arises when the DEP tries to backup guidance with the “force of law” like it’s “holding a hammer over the environmental professionals or the regulated community when there’s really no legal basis for them to do that.”
Rep. Bryan Hurlburt, D-Tolland, said that he voted for the bill after hearing “more grievances and more grievances” from constituents since coming to the Capitol.
Hurlburt warned that when legislators “don’t have enough information – timely information – we make bad decisions.”
A number of bills reached the Environment Committee this session seeking to scale back the power of the DEP. One bill would have dissolved the department entirely and moved its functions to the Department of Economic and Community Development. That bill died in committee.