HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 2 p.m.) The state’s fiscal issues put Connecticut’s environment on the backburner this year, according to the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.
The League releases a scorecard every year and ranks the 36 Senators and 151 House members on how they voted on environmental issues both during the session and over the lifetime of their legislative careers. And while no environmental issue dominated the headlines, the scores dropped considerably this year and environmental wins were modest compared with the past.
Compared with 2016, the average score on pro-environmental issues this year dropped in the Senate from 92 percent to 62 percent. But Democrats did better than Republicans.
The scores of Senate Democrats dropped from 94 percent to 77 percent and Senate Republicans dropped from 89 percent to 47 percent. Only two Senators received a 100 percent score.
In the House, the average score dropped from 79 percent to 69 percent. House Democrats did better than Republicans on the environmental issue area, which some consider to be bipartisan in Connecticut. Democrats in the House dropped from 86 percent to 78 percent and House Republicans dropped from 69 percent to 58 percent. Only seven of the 151 members received a 100 percent score.
“Too many members of the state legislature were complicit in attacks on environmental laws that protect our air, water, wildlife and public lands,” the league’s executive director, Lori Brown, said. “The increasingly divided political climate made it impossible for good bills to move forward.”
This year the League cited three small victories for the legislative session that ended on June 7.
A relaxation of the water-secrecy rules, the addition of a consumer advocate to the Metropolitan District Commission (a Hartford region water and sewer authority), and a prohibition on use of coal-tar sealant on state and local highways. They counted 19 “good” environmental bills that failed and 13 “bad” bills that were defeated.
However, its biggest defeat may have been the failure of the Senate to take up the constitutional amendment legislation to protect public lands.
The league has described it as a “stunning disappointment.”
The legislation would require a two-thirds vote of each chamber before public land is sold, swapped, or given away.
The same resolution was approved last year by the General Assembly, but it had to be approved again this year in order to appear on the statewide ballot in 2018. There’s still a chance for it to appear on the 2018 ballot as a question for voters if the General Assembly passes it next year.
Proponents of the legislation said it would prevent state parks and forest from being turned into parking lots and buildings through the annual land conveyance bill.
But it wasn’t the only piece of legislation to fail.
The league said there were an “unprecedented” number of bills left unfinished when the General Assembly adjourned.
“This session, too many of our legislators failed to appreciate that by not protecting the environment, they are not only hurting the economy, but creating long-term dire problems that will be even more expensive to correct and more difficult to reverse,” David Bingham, the league’s co-chair, said.
However, the league was also happy to see the failure of some legislation that it oppose.
A bill that sought to authorize recreational bear hunting in the state failed, and so did a handful of bills that would have rolled back some environmental regulations.
They said one of the attempts to weaken environmental enforcement would have allowed the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to suspend civil penalties against a business that was a first-time offender.
The Environment Committee was chaired this year by three lawmakers because of the evenly divided state Senate, which contributed to fewer bills making it out of the committee.
The League felt the committee co-chairman Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. “accommodated” his new co-chairman Sen. Craig Miner, a Republican from Litchfield, when dealing with important legislation.
“Democratic Co-chair Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. often accommodated Senator Miner’s agenda,” the scorecard states. “House Co-chair Mike Demicco did as much as he could to keep important bills alive in the House and even worked on important environmental bills that did not start in his committee.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Kennedy said he senses that the League is “frustrated by the new political reality” of a split Senate, which created the three chairmanships on the Environment Committee and the other legislative committees.
Kennedy said he’s proud of his 92 percent lifetime score and he’s also proud of the bipartisan manner in which the committee operates. He said historically the Environment Committee was probably the most bipartisan committee, but all that changed with the recent election.
“It’s a divided committee,” Kennedy said. “In the legislative process in order to move legislation along you need to accommodate other people’s points of views and concerns, and the league knows that.”