christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie

SUSAN BIGELOW
Thanks to a generous donor, 40 acres of land in Bloomfield will be preserved as open space. Excellent. Any expansion of our state parks is welcome, especially during a time when conservation and environmentalism have faded from public consciousness.

It’s worrisome that we’re adding new space during a time when the governor’s budget actually cuts funding for state parks and forests. The state is looking for other ways to fund these enduring reminders of our state’s natural beauty, but that they are once again under threat in a tight budget year is the perfect symbol of Connecticut’s complicated relationship with the environment.

A lot of environmental surveys put Connecticut somewhere near the top or the top-middle of the states. One very recent ranking from WalletHub ranks Connecticut 9th; we score well on environment but lower on environmentally friendly behaviors. Another survey suggests we’re not doing as well: 247wallst.com ranks us 26th.

So what’s the truth? It’s mixed. We actually do fairly well with environmental policies, and we’re getting better. There is, for instance, bipartisan support for a bill that would ban plastic bags and cosmetics with microbeads in them. The so-called “Blue Plan” for Long Island Sound, which would require the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to come up with a plan for the Sound’s conservation and use, was passed by the House of Representatives on Earth Day. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also announced the formation of a state council on climate change that would ensure the state meets its greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2050.

This is all good stuff, especially when considered alongside all the green policies enacted in previous years. And yet our environment itself is stubbornly resistant to change. Fairfield County is one of the worst counties in the entire nation for ozone pollution, according to the American Lung Association. Connecticut as a whole didn’t do so well, either: as the WalletHub survey noted, “The American Lung Association places Connecticut at 45th for ozone levels and 48th for levels of airborne particulates.” Our air is a bit better than it was 20 years ago, thankfully, but it’s still a big problem.

Some of the problem literally blows in on the breeze; emissions from Appalachia and the Midwest, where air quality controls are not nearly as strict as they are here, have a big impact on the stuff we breathe.

But we’re also responsible for our own environment, and despite all the progress we’ve made we can definitely do better. Our biggest challenges are cultural; they have to do with how we get around and how we’ve planned our cities and towns.

Connecticut is a small, relatively densely-packed state, but like a lot of similar places we’ve had all kinds of trouble with suburban sprawl. Connecticut isn’t nearly as bad as Sun Belt cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, but we are not always particularly adept at keeping developments compact and walkable, encouraging denser development, or at preserving open space.

We’re also lousy about getting out of our cars, and that’s the biggest problem of all. I-95, I-91, and I-84 are constantly clogged with both car and truck traffic, and the way our towns are laid out make it all but impossible to do anything but take a car to run errands, go to work, or go somewhere fun. This is the way it is everywhere in Connecticut except within our most densely populated cities.

Low-density suburbs with few options for walking or biking and expensive, fragmentary, and sometimes unreliable public transportation are some of the reasons why we’re still stuck in our cars. New transit improvements like CTfastrak and the planned Hartford Line commuter rail will help, but there are still big swaths of the state where the car still is basically the only way to get around.

I’m glad to see Gov. Malloy and the legislature take both climate change and the environment seriously. I do believe the government truly wants to take steps toward a greener state, and I know that we can’t control the air that blows in from the rust belt. However, we can do more.

To really rededicate ourselves to conservation and the environment, let’s expand bus lines, and expand CTfastrak north and east. Let’s make Metro-North easier and cheaper to ride, and make sure the new Hartford Line is the same. Let’s invest in land banks, open space preservation, smart development, and green energy. And lastly, let’s fund our state parks! That way, the state we give to the next generation will be greener, cleaner, and more livable.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.