Municipal leaders are seeking further concessions from the state environmental protection agency on new regulations forcing towns to reduce pollution through storm water runoff.
Last month, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection responded to budgetary complaints by the municipal lobby group the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and signalled it would scale back new requirements designed to reduce the pollutants that run off the state’s roadways.
The agency indicated it was revising provisions in a permit application which would have required towns to sweep streets more often, clean catch basins, manage fallen leaves, and keep tabs on the water quality of storm water discharge. DEEP has not yet released specific language for these requirements.
However, other provisions the agency is considering in the permit application still present as much as $100 million in statewide new costs for cash-strapped town governments, the municipal group said in a press release.
“While CCM is encouraged that DEEP appears to be moving away from portions of the onerous and costly unfunded administrative mandate, many serious and extremely costly issues remain,” Ron Thomas, the group’s public policy and advocacy director, said.
According to the group, the proposed permit requirements are sometimes vague, would force towns to adopt new zoning regulations, and are more strict than the federal government requires. Local officials are still not “on board” with the state’s new permit requirements, Thomas said.
“DEEP is still proposing a huge mandate — one that goes well beyond what [Environmental Protection Agency] requires,” he said.
Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra appealed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to work with towns on the issue at a meeting of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns last week. Malloy assured her that DEEP would sit down with town leaders and “work some of this out.” But he said it would have to be a compromise.
“I gotta say to you because it’s in my nature to be honest about this stuff, you may not get everything you want. There is a new federal standard that we have to meet, like it or not. But trying to get there in the least costly way and over an appropriate timeframe and with increased funding requirements spread out across municipalities and state government—I think we can get there,” Malloy said.
In a press release last month, DEEP director of Water Permitting and Enforcement Oswald Inglese said the state must balance the fiscal concerns of towns with mitigating the environmental impact of pollution in storm water runoff.
“Storm water carries contaminants into our lakes, rivers, streams, and Long Island Sound — the water bodies that make Connecticut a special place to live and the places where we all want to enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating,” Inglese said. “We must take steps to reduce the level of contamination discharged into our water from storm water systems.”
Some environmental advocates believe the regulations did not go far enough. Roger Reynolds, legal director for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said it is premature for the municipal to reject regulations that have yet to be released.
What DEEP has described seems too vague and unenforceable to protect the state’s water under federal Clean Water Act standards, Reynolds said.
“We want to see specific, enforceable positions,” he said.
Reynolds said that the law should viewed as a public health safeguard, not an “unfunded mandate” as the town leaders view it.
“The Clean Water Act is not an unfunded mandate, it is a policy to protect our health and safety. The state must comply with federal law to keep public waters swimmable, fishable and drinkable. It is a basic health obligation, not an unfunded mandate,” he said.
A conference to discuss the status of the permit will be held on Feb. 5 and it will include officials from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Council of Small Towns, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and DEEP.