Courtesy of the report

Enforcement of the state’s environmental laws has declined and is failing to meet its goals in preserving open space, but some improvements have been made in air quality. That’s according to the Council on Environmental Quality’s 2013 annual report.

The report found that Connecticut residents are driving less, taking the bus more often and using electricity more efficiently. That’s part of the reason air quality in the state last year was the best its been in decades. However, the report of 30 environmental factors also found some areas of decline. Long Island Sound’s warming temperatures that have forced out cold water species like lobsters are a sign that global warming will “hurt the state’s efforts to protect and improve the environment.”

Flooding along Connecticut’s rivers and streams is becoming “more frequent and more damaging” than in the past, researchers stated in the report.

The report also found that the state hasn’t been as aggressive as it has in the past in enforcing environmental laws. More than 1,000 violations were found, the most in more than a decade, according to the report.

The Council was surprised by the finding.

“The apparent downturn in compliance with environmental laws was unexpected,” Council Chair Susan Merrow said in a press release. “The compliance rate had been hovering between 80 and 90 percent for years, but declined to 72 percent last year.”

A 72 percent compliance rate means that state environmental inspectors found violations during 28 percent (more than one in four) of the inspections they conducted.

The Council was not certain of the reasons for the apparent downturn. They speculated that it would be “the statistical product of a small Department of Energy and Environmental Protection focusing its attention on business sectors where violations are rife . . . Another possibility is the diminishing chance of being caught: fewer inspections were conducted last year than in any year since 1990.”

Much enforcement was aimed at preventing future spills and discharges, especially of petroleum, according to the report. This work is important but generally does not influence the status of today’s environment and the indicators in this report. The exact relationship of enforcement to compliance and environmental quality is a subject for future investigation.

The report also found that the state’s preservation of farmland, open space, parks, and forests requires a greater level of commitment from the state. The goal is to conserve 10 percent, or 320,000 acres, of Connecticut’s land as open space by 2023. In 2012 the state preserved 341 acres and in 2013 it preserved another 467 acres. It’s still unknown how many acres are being preserved by municipalities.