What the Frack is going on with Senate Bill 237 that would ban Fracking Waste in Connecticut

As the clock counts down toward the end of the 2014 session of the Connecticut General Assembly, Senate Bill 237, AN ACT PROHIBITING THE STORAGE OR DISPOSAL OF FRACKING WASTE IN CONNECTICUT, appears to be withering on the vine.

In other words, some important people or constituencies are trying to kill the vital piece of legislation.

This year’s “Fracking Bill” prohibits the storage or disposal in Connecticut of drilling fluid, wastewater that flows out of petroleum wells (known as produced waters), and other waste associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas, or geothermal energy.

Without the bill, the waste produced by the fracking process could end up being stored or disposed of here in Connecticut.

While the storage or disposal of fracking waste here in Connecticut could make some people very rich, it would also pose a significant risk to Connecticut’s environment and its citizens.

The bill, as it is presently written, has the support of all of the major Connecticut’s environmental groups including Audubon CT, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Clean Water Action, Connecticut Citizens Action Group, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Conn PIRG, Environment CT, Food and Water Watch, Grassroots Environmental Education, Rivers Alliance, Save the Sound, and the Sierra Club

The bill also has dozens of Democratic and Republican sponsors.

The bill passed the General Assembly’s Environment Committee 22-5.

And then the bill passed the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee 34-6.

It is now sitting on the Senate Calendar waiting to be voted upon before the legislative session ends at Midnight on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014.

In a rather strange interchange on WNPR radio’s “Where We Live” program last week, Governor Malloy testily responded to a question about the bill by saying that a moratorium on fracking waste would pass the legislature this year. (He sort of shouted out his response).

But his tone, and the actions of his lieutenants, seems to suggest that Malloy has some other agenda.

As the bill awaits action, a series of “killer” amendments has suddenly been filed that would effectively destroy the bill’s intent.

In a joint statement last week, Connecticut’s environmental groups recently wrote to legislators stating,

We greatly appreciate the ongoing efforts of the legislative champions who have worked tirelessly on this fracking waste issue.  As you know, our organizations have been supporting a ban on fracking waste in Connecticut. In recent weeks however, many of us supported efforts to craft a compromise that, while short of a ban, could be an acceptable step in that direction. In particular, a compromise consisting of a minimum 3 year moratorium combined with language that closes the federal fracking hazardous waste loop-hole, by defining waste from hydraulic fracturing as hazardous waste under state law and regulations.

Unfortunately, the most recent amendments filed on SB237 (LCOs 5059, 5063, 5065, and 5103) seriously weaken what was already a significant compromise. We are deeply concerned that the effect of these newest proposed changes would be to eviscerate one of the core purposes of the bill: to close the proposed federal hazardous waste loophole. Therefore, we regretfully must oppose the bill at this time. In fact, we would prefer that no bill relating to fracking waste be passed this year than one that has been compromised to this extent.

To be clear, we continue to support efforts to enact strong legislation that would prevent Connecticut’s communities from the environmental, economic, and public health threat posed by the disposal of toxic, radioactive fracking wastes. We look forward to, and are ready to work with all interested parties to find an effective solution to achieve that goal, now and in coming years.

Considering the bill to ban the storage and disposal of fracking waste has strong legislative support and Governor Malloy was quoted on the radio as saying he supports the bill, what is really going on behind the scenes?

For starters, Malloy’s “anti-fracking” stance may not be quite what it seems.

As reported recently on the blog, Raising Hale, “Connecticut’s comprehensive energy strategy says fracking is good because Connecticut gets cheap natural gas (p. 119).  Malloy’s energy policy reads,

For decades, the prices of natural gas and oil have been linked, with gas historically being the more expensive of the two. Over the last several years, the price of the two commodities have diverged, or “decoupled,” from one another. The emergence of new extraction techniques (most notably horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or ―fracking) have made it economic to bring enormous amounts of new domestic natural gas supply to the marketplace from shale basins across the country (including in the mid-Atlantic states).

This recent development presents Connecticut residents and business owners with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to switch to a cheaper, cleaner fuel source.

And as the Raising Hale blog further explains,

In December, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty told WNPR, ”In fact, the governor often says he’s very disappointed we don’t have any ‘frackable’ areas. We have shale; it just happens to have no gas in it.”

Wait, what?

Malloy’s energy policy applauds fracking and Malloy’s former Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection reports that Governor Malloy repeatedly said he wishes we had “fackable” areas in Connecticut?

But as more and more citizens know, fracking poses an extremely serious threat to our environment.

Considering this is an election year, is it possible that Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy is trying to have it both ways?

While promoting fracking is he now saying, on the radio, that he is for a bill to ensure Connecticut doesn’t become the dumping ground for fracking waste?

And yet while saying he supported a ban, is he now working with selected lobbyists and industries to ensure that a fracking ban doesn’t pass this year.

Malloy’s stance on WNPR’s “Where We Live” was pretty clear.  He said,

“We want to stop, right now, fracturing waste at the borders of the state,” he said, “at least with respect to a moratorium, until we have time to understand what’s in it.”

Yet when an important and popular bill gets “stuck” in the legislative process it is because someone important wants it stuck.

When the bill came up for a public hearing, groups opposed to the ban included the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, a company called AirWell H20, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Connecticut Petroleum Council, and the America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA).

While these groups don’t produce a lot of votes in an election, they are a vital pipeline for campaign contributions.

As the legislative clock races toward Wednesday’s midnight deadline, keep a special eye on the bill to ban fracking waste.

How Malloy handles Senate Bill 237 may just give us a sense of whether, in the end, his real priority is the health and safety of Connecticut’s citizens or his own access to the cash cow called the energy industry.

You can hear more about the fracking issue in Connecticut by going to: http://wnpr.org/post/connecticuts-complicated-relationship-natural-gas

When illegally clear cutting state forest always carry your “get out of jail free” card…

… Or, at the very least, make sure you have really, really good political connections.

Zachary Janowski, the investigative journalist for the Raising Hale Website, has authored another “must read” article.  This one entitled “Environmental group sues state for going easy on wind-power company that cut down trees in state forest.”

According to Janowski;

“A conservation group is suing the state to force it to throw out a settlement between state officials and a wind-power company that clear-cut 2.5 acres of state forest.

The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council is suing the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and officials within that agency for settling out of court with the offender.

According to BLEC’s complaint, the 111 largest trees that were cut down are worth more than $1.1 million.

BLEC claims DEEP should have referred the issue to Attorney General George Jepsen instead of settling the matter. Since the case wasn’t handled in open court, BLEC claims, the consent decree is “null and void.”

BLEC asks the court to invalidate the agreement between DEEP and BNE and replace it with one that requires the company to restore the state forest to its “natural state.”

Jepsen, whose office is defending DEEP in court, said the agency “has broad statutory authority to resolve disputes about environmental matters through the use of consent decrees, as it did in this case.”

‘I will, therefore, vigorously defend the lawsuit which is without merit,’ Jepsen said”

The lawsuit is without merit?

Attorney General Jepsen can disagree with the suit, but to call it without merit is a bit much!

Why not just say that BNE is so well politically connected that state officials have made the practical decision to turn the other check and let BNE off the hook with a slap on the wrist.

Long time Wait, What? readers may vaguely remember a post about BNE and their political connections.

BNE Energy, Wind Farms, Occhiogrosso: A lesson on how modern government really works was a post that revealed that BNE Energy is incorporated in Delaware but owned by two Connecticut residents – Greg Zupkus, who serves as President and CEO and Paul Corey, who serves as BNE’s Chairman of the Board.

BNE has been trying to develop commercial wind projects in Prospect and Colebrook Connecticut.

The company has also received at least a half a million dollars in taxpayer-funded corporate welfare grants from the Malloy administration.

Paul J. Corey is well-known in Connecticut politics and government.  During the Rowland years Corey served as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control, the entity that oversees the development of energy policy in Connecticut.  Corey also served as the Chairman of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s Board of Directors from January 2000 to December 2004.

Corey’s wife, Christine, was a high-ranking personal assistant to former Governor John Rowland.  Together they gave Rowland the famous hot-tub that helped lead to the impeachment hearings and Rowland’s subsequent resignation and trip to federal prison.

After leaving public service Corey joined the law firm of Brown, Rudnick to work in their Public Utility Practice Group.  Brown Rudnick, LLP presently does the lobbying and permitting work for BNE.  The lead individual from Brown, Rudnick is Thomas Ritter, the former speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

BNE Energy has also retained the services of the law firm of Pullman & Comley, the law firm where former State Senator Andrew McDonald worked before becoming Malloy’s Chief Counsel.  McDonald now serves as a Justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Since Malloy has become governor, Pullman & Comley has received hundreds of millions of dollars in state business and was retained by BNE to help the company get its wind projects approved by the Connecticut Siting Council.

And finally, BNE’s public relations and grassroots lobbying is conducted by none-other-than Roy Occhiogrosso and the Global Strategy Group.  Occhiogrosso having previously served as Governor Malloy’s chief advisor.

Over the past two years alone, Ritter and the Occhogrosso’s Global Strategy Group have received over $200,000 in fees from BNE.

But the pièce de résistance is what happened to BNE after they illegally clear-cut down the two and half acres of pristine forest in one of Connecticut’s state parks.

And for that you need to read Zach Janowski’s piece, “Environmental group sues state for going easy on wind-power company that cut down trees in state forest.

The Janowski article link can be found here: http://www.raisinghale.com/2013/11/07/environmental-group-sues-state-easy-on-wind/ and the previous Wait, What? post on BNE energy is here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/01/08/bne-energy-wind-farms-occhiogrosso-a-lesson-on-how-modern-government-really-works/

Pesticides: A school child’s best friend

In 2010, New York State passed the Child Safe Playing Field Act, legislation that banned the application of pesticides on the play areas of all schools, pre-K through 12th grade.

The New York bill started out as a ban on all outdoor school grounds, but it was narrowed to cover only school playgrounds and playing fields.  It also allows “emergency application of pesticides for infestations.”

Here in Connecticut, pesticides have been banned on school play areas, but only for pre-k through 8th grade.

A bill was introduced this year, House bill 6385, to expand the ban on pesticides to high schools.  The bill passed the Education Committee but it now appears that legislation will be changed into a “task force study bill.”

When in doubt, call for a study. Continue reading “Pesticides: A school child’s best friend”

Advocacy group prevented from speaking about key policy issues due to 14 year-old muzzle agreement.

Here is one of the top 2012 Wait, What? moments!

A leading Connecticut environmental advocacy group has withdrawn its opposition to a new 20 mile MDC pipeline from Farmington to UConn due to a 1998 agreement with the MDC that it will not speak about MDC plans to divert public water as long as it doesn’t exceed the MDC’s water capacity.

Wait, What?

According to an article in the Hartford Courant, “The Farmington River Watershed Association acknowledged Thursday that a 1998 agreement it signed compelled it to call off its campaign opposing a plan by The Metropolitan District to supply water to the University of Connecticut.”

Okay, so let’s get this right.

Fourteen years ago, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a public entity, headed by a former Connecticut State Senator and funded through public dollars, forced a non-profit, issue advocacy group to refrain from speaking out about a public issue related to environmental and public health policy in Connecticut.

In fact, when the Farmington River Association’s Director, Eileen Fielding, signed up to speak at a recent UConn public hearing, the “MDC reminded her” that she was barred from commenting.

The Courant story quoted Fielding as saying, “Around our office we call it the Portland agreement,” because, as the Courant reports, “The agreement — signed when the MDC extended its reach into Portland — bars the watershed association from opposing MDC water diversions as long as they do not exceed the district’s capacity. The capacity has been estimated at 70 million gallons a day.”

Meanwhile, the Courant reports that, “Margaret Miner, executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, said her organization plans to step up its opposition now that the Farmington River Watershed Association is blocked from speaking out.”

All this leaves us with the questions;

What was the MDC afraid of that it would demand language that was so revolting and inappropriate?

Why did the Farmington River Association agree to sign an agreement with such offensive language?

Would such an agreement stand up in Court, considering it so clearly violates the fundamental rights protected under the United States Bill of Rights?

And will someone in the Connecticut Legislature or on the MDC Board, please introduce language forbidding this type of provision from being included in any future MDC agreements?

Courant story can be found here:  http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-mdc-uconn-watershed-20121213,0,5681171,print.story

And the winner of the “Wow, that’s embarrassing award” goes to Dan Esty, Connecticut’s Energy and Environment Commissioner…

In an extraordinarily brief but accurate eulogy, the Courant’s Jon Lender summed up the situation in today’s Hartford Courant by saying “The Haddam land swap is dead.”

While the details surrounding the land swap deal are interesting, it’s the politics that has been so riveting.

When I teach my imaginary class on Connecticut Politics and Government, the “Haddam Land Swap” is the case study about how issues are not always what they seem and how Energy and Environment Commissioner Dan Esty learned that converting to a different religion would have allowed him more freedom of thought than joining the “Malloy Team.”

The abbreviated version begins with a multi-year effort to pass special legislation giving a private developer a 17-acre parcel of state land overlooking the Connecticut River in return for a parcel of land adjacent to a nearby state park.  The state land had been purchased as part of an open space initiative developed by Governor William O’Neill in 1986.  Both the grant program and the deed transferring the land in 2003 made it clear the goal was to preserve the land as open space.

On the other hand, the developer really wanted the land so they could build a retail and housing project on the ridge overlooking the river.

Two years ago, with more than a dozen environmental organizations opposed to the land swap deal; Governor Rell used her veto power to stop the effort.

At the time, Dan Esty was a member of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment’s Board of Directors.  CFE was a leading opponent of the project.

Fast forward one year and Dan Malloy had become Connecticut’s Governor and Dan Esty, the state’s Commissioner of Energy and Environment.

A powerful state senator, who served as one of the co-chairs of the Finance Committee re-introduced her legislation authorizing the Haddam land swap deal.  Not wanting to upset the Senator, whose help Malloy needed to pass his $1.5 billion tax package, the Governor and Commissioner Esty spent most of the 2011 legislative session ducking any and all opportunities to voice an opinion on the controversial land swap deal.

In order to get some political cover, as Governor Malloy prepared to sign the special act into law, he wrote to Commissioner Esty asking for his opinion.

Esty wrote back saying “on balance I believe that the State’s conservation and recreation agenda is not harmed by this exchange.”  (This, of course, was a switch from the Department of Environmental Protection’s previous position on the issue before Esty arrived.  In fact, agency officials had prepared a draft of legislative testimony that would once again point out that the land swap was “inconsistent with our policy on the exchange of preserved open space.”) Continue reading “And the winner of the “Wow, that’s embarrassing award” goes to Dan Esty, Connecticut’s Energy and Environment Commissioner…”

Let’s Return to the Real Issue: Transparency and Conflicts of Interest

A mini-firestorm has developed surrounding the issue of whether Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, should recuse himself from any Department of Education decisions about Achievement First, the charter school management company, that he helped form and where he has served as a member of its board of directors from its inception in 2003 to 2011 when he resigned immediately prior to being named Education Commissioner.

This is not a question about whether Commissioner Pryor has a legal “conflict of interest”.  It is a question of whether the “appearance of a conflict of interest” is sufficient enough that he should recuse himself because that is the ethical and transparent thing to do.

In response to the concerns I’ve raised over the past few days, some reporters have asked Governor Malloy about his perspective on the issue.  To CTNewsjunkie he calls the conflict of interest accusations “ridiculous” and in a CTMirror article he described the issue as “fantastically, ridiculous.”

In an attempt to resolve the differences of opinion let’s just take a moment to review the facts.

Fact #1:  Connecticut law has a very narrow definition of what is legally a “conflict of interest”.  Basically if a public official or their family would financially benefit then it is a conflict of interest.  Both Commissioner Esty and Commissioner Pryor sought guidance from the State Office and were told that they did not have a conflict of interest.

Fact #2:   Connecticut does not have a legal definition of what would be considered the “appearance of a conflict of interest.”   In states that do have a legal definition it is usually defined as whether a “reasonable person” would think that an official has what appears to be a conflict of interest and therefore has a responsibility to take action to eliminate that appearance.

Fact #3:     As a candidate for governor and as governor, Dannel Malloy has said that ensuring transparency in government is one of his most important agenda items.  On his first day in office, the new governor issued a press release that began with IN FIRST ACT AS GOVERNOR, MALLOY SIGNS THREE EXECUTIVE ORDERS…Orders will help institute fiscal responsibility/honest budgeting, transparency…”

 Fact #4:  Although Commissioner Esty, the head of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, had an ethics ruling saying that he did not have any “legal” conflict of interest; he announced that he felt, as commissioner, he had an obligation to meet a higher standard, that being to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

Esty announced that due to his commitment to do the job right it was “prudent to insure I was in no way seen as making decisions on a company that I’ve had some close relationships with.”  With that he released a list of 26 companies and two environmental organizations which he had a close relationship.

One of the environmental groups was the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. Esty had served on the organization’s Board of Education and despite having resigned from their board he included them on the list of entities that he would recuse himself from.

Esty earned high praise from a variety of different organizations and individuals for his decision to eliminate even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

A Hartford Courant editorial called Esty’s action “the principled thing to so” and added “Avoiding conflicts of interests are a must for any commissioner but especially so in the highly volatile and often politicized realm of environmental protection.

The Courant concluded “Good for him for putting all his cards on the table and acting ethically”

When Esty later came under fire for leaving a company off his list, Malloy was his strongest defending saying that if there was any issue at all it was that Esty “should have done it [revealed his connection] out of the box”.

Governor Malloy simply could not have been clearer.  One of his most important commissioners had stepped up and set a new standard for transparency and ethics and that eliminating even the appearance of a conflict of interest required him to recuse himself on any issue related to an environmental group whose board he has served on.

Fact #5:  Connecticut’s new Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, sought advice about whether he had any conflicts of interest under state law.  Ethics correctly told him he did not.

But that was never the issue.  The question is whether Commissioner Pryor has an appearance of a conflict of interest when it comes to his relationship with Achievement First, one of the nation’s largest charter management companies with nine schools here in Connecticut.

Commissioner Pryor was a driving force behind the creation of Achievement First.  Pryor, along with his colleague Dacia Toll, led the team that turned the dream of the Amistad Academy into a reality.

Achievement First grew out of that experience as the vehicle for creating more charter schools.  Pryor joined the Board of Directors of this new company.  His partner on the Amistad School project is now the President and CEO of Achievement First.

As one of Achievement First’s Directors, Stefan Pryor has been a vital part of the organization’s unprecedented growth.  Starting with the Amistad Academy, Achievement First now has 20 schools in Connecticut and New York serving almost 5,400 students. As a result of a “Management Fee” collected from each school, Achievement First collects about $4 million a year.

In 2010, Achievement First’s Board of Directors adopted an aggressive strategic plan to grow Achievement First.  The plan, which is outlined in their 2010 Annual Report, is designed to increase the number of Achievement First charter schools from 20 schools to 35 schools in the next few years.  Instead of serving 5,400 students, Achievement First plans to serve more than 12,000 students. If they utilized the present “Management Fee” system they would be collecting nearly $10 million a year.

Perhaps most importantly, Achievement First notes that when their strategic plan is implemented Achievement First “will serve more students than 95 percent of school districts in the United States”.

As Connecticut’s new Commissioner of Education and the Governor’s point person on education reform, Stefan Pryor now finds himself in the unique position of being able to determine whether Achievement First’s aggressive growth plan will succeed or fail.

Fact #6:  This is not about whether Commissioner Pryor, a well-regarded leader and change agent, should be involved in the great education reform debate of 2012.  This is not about whether Commissioner Pryor should be involved in discussions and decisions about whether Connecticut should allow the creation of more charter schools.  This debate is exclusively about whether there is the appearance of a conflict of interest when it comes to Pryor making decisions about applications from Achievement First.

The answer to that question is of course there is an appearance of a conflict of interest.  In fact, I’d assume that any reasonable person would say not only is there the appearance of a conflict of interest but there is a real conflict of interest.

This year’s education reform debate will most likely see an expansion of charter schools in Connecticut.  Even with that expansion there will be more proposed charter school seats than there are funds to pay for them.  Some charter schools will win approval and others will not.  If Commissioner Pryor plays a major role in who wins and who loses, a cloud will forever hover over those decisions.

Fact #7:  Governor Malloy said he would be the governor who brought transparency to Connecticut.

Governor Malloy applauded one of his star commissioners, Dan Esty, when Esty set a new standard of openness and honesty.  Esty even announced that he would not act on any issue related to an environmental organization whose board he has served on.

And now, when Commissioner Pryor is facing the very same decision that Commissioner Esty faced, Governor Malloy calls the suggestion that Pryor remove the appearance of a conflict of interest by abstaining from getting personally involved in decisions that would impact Achievement First “ridiculous.”

In the real world there is nothing “ridiculous” about asking Commissioner Pryor to recuse himself on this one specific area.  Commissioner Esty did so and was hailed as a champion.  It appears, at this point, that Commissioner Pryor refuses to follow Esty’s lead in any way whatsoever.

If there is something ridiculous going here it is a governor who has claimed his commitment to transparency would applaud one commissioner who strived to be transparent, only to defend another one of his commissioners who is striving not to be transparent.

Update on Haddam Land Swap; Commissioner says no problem because there were no “deed restrictions” on the land

(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty faced opponents of the Haddam “land swap” deal yesterday in what the Hartford Courant described as a “sometimes heated question-and-answer session.”

Wait, What? Readers will remember that the Legislature passed and Governor Malloy signed a bill swapping 17 acres of state-owned land overlooking the Connecticut River for 87 acres of land adjacent to a state park.  The developer will now use the 17 acres to build an upscale mall on the river view land.

Link to the previous Wait, What? post; http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/dep-leader-calls-controversial-land-deal-%e2%80%9cnot-the-most-important-environmental-issue%e2%80%9d/

A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Rell last year pointing out that despite the legislative support the Department of Environmental Protection strongly opposed the transfer.

This year, Connecticut’s environmental groups once again geared up in opposition of the bill.  However, thanks to the work of the bills primary sponsor, the Senate Chairwoman of the Finance Committee, both
Malloy and Esty chose not to make any statements during the legislative session and Governor Malloy quickly and quietly signed the bill into law soon after the legislative session ended.

Opponents claimed that since both the seller and the State agreed to purchase the land for open space, Connecticut state government was obligated to maintain the land and could not transfer it to a private developer.

At Thursday’s meeting Commissioner Esty said that the reports that there were restrictions on the Haddam land was “misinformation” and that “there was no promise to protect [the land] for the seller.”

The notion that the lack of a deed restriction made it “okay” to trade the land to a private developer is more than a bit disingenuous.

The 17 acres in question was purchased through the Connecticut Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust
Program.

The fund was a 1986 initiative of Governor William O’Neill (the last Democrat to have served in the Governor’s Office).  At the time, the Governor and his Administration recognized the policy (and political
importance) of doing more to permanently protected open space and farmland.

I know, because I was there and deeply involved in using the 1986 legislative session to better position the
Governor’s fall re-election effort.  In the small world department, another key player was none other than Tim Bannon, Malloy’s present chief of staff who, at the time served as O’Neill’s speech writer and part of the governor’s inner circle.

The 1986 legislation even included an introductory explanation that laid out the goals of the effort.  It’s an explanation the remains in statute to this day.

The new fund was designed to “(1) Acquire land that represents the ecological diversity of Connecticut, including natural features such as riverine, montane, coastal and geologic systems or other natural areas, on behalf of the state, in order to ensure the preservation and conservation of such land for recreational,
scientific, educational, cultural and aesthetic purposes and (2) acquire land of unusual natural interest as additions to the system of parks, forests, wildlife and fishery management areas, natural areas and dedicated natural area preserves in the state for the beneficial use and enjoyment of the public.

In 1989, O’Neill was still Governor, another section was added reading that the goal was also to “(3) acquire land identified as essential habitat for endangered and threatened species.

And in 1998 a final criteria was added  that said that the fund could be used to purchase land to (4) offset carbon dioxide produced through combustion of fossil fuels by preserving lands that naturally absorb it.

Now, twenty five years later, Connecticut‘s Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust program remains
the state’s primary mechanism for acquiring and preserving environmentally important open space.

As reported in today’s Hartford Courant, Rob Smith, an East Haddam resident and a former top administrator with the Department of Environmental Protection’s parks division spoke up at the meeting.  Smith confronted Commissioner Esty’s claim that there was no restriction on the sale of the land saying “You can’t make statements like that if you want people to trust you.”

But Esty maintained that the land transfer was appropriate and even told the group that it was a good deal for the state.

How and why this bill made it through the General Assembly and was signed into law would make a great case study about how politics and power can be used to steamroll policy (and in this case historic intent).

Courant Story:  http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-esty-visits-gillette-castle-0805-20110804,0,2570661.story

DEP leader calls controversial land deal “not the most important environmental issue”

Once an outspoken environmental advocate and leader on the Board of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Dan Esty, Malloy’s Commissioner charged with protecting the environmental explains how he sees things differently now that he is wearing a different hat.

Not wanting to upset a powerful state senator, Governor Malloy and Esty spent the recent session of the Connecticut Legislature ducking any and all opportunities to voice an opinion on a controversial land swap deal that was opposed by most of Connecticut’s environmental groups, including organizations in which Esty had played leadership roles.

Now, with the session over, Commissioner Dan Esty has dismissed the long-standing concern about the project and even took a shot at environmentalists for, what was reported as, “focusing so much attention on the controversial proposal.”

The land deal trades 17 acres of state-owned land along the Connecticut River to a real estate developer for 87.7 acres adjacent to the Cockaponset State Forest. The 17 acres of state land were purchased for conservation purposes by the Connecticut’s Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Fund. It is presently part of a Wildlife Management Area.

More than two dozen Connecticut environmental organizations opposed the land swap deal including Friends of Connecticut State Parks, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Audubon Connecticut, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, the state Association of Inland Wetland and Conservation Commissions the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, the Connecticut River Gateway Commission, the Nature Conservancy, Middletown-based Jonah Center for Earth and Art, the State Association of Inland Wetland and Conservation Commissions and land trusts from the surrounding communities.

The Connecticut Fund for the Environment, one of the groups Esty was particularly active with, strongly opposed the project saying “Land that has been dedicated to conservation should not be swapped in this way. How will this affect donations if the donor knows that deeded conservation land could someday become a shopping center?”

As a result of the concerns that were raised by the environmental community, Governor Rell vetoed the deal when it passed the Assembly last year.

However, thanks to a massive lobbying campaign, and the support of a Democratically controlled legislature and governor’s office, the bill on the land swap will now become law.

A range of environmental experts presented a well-documented case for their opposition to the swap.

However, in a must-read story in CT Environmental Headlines, Esty argued that the deal was “not the most important environmental issue” and went on to say that environmentalists had “blown the issue out of proportion.”

Explaining his position, Esty said that as a former member of a Planning and Zoning Commission, he believed it was important to defer to local officials.

However, Esty failed to mention that one key local official, the Democratic freshman State Representative Philip Miller, strongly opposed the bill, pointing out that the land the state was being asked to give away was purchased as conservation land and should not be developed under any circumstance.

Proponents of the transfer have countered with that claim that the actually wording of the purchase agreement was that the land in question should be used for conservation land, and since it didn’t say “shall be for conservation land, ” the development of the property is okay.

Note: If you haven’t subscribed to CT Environmental Headlines go sign up today. It is by far the best sources of information about environmental issues in Connecticut: http://environmentalheadlines.com/ct/