Policymakers, regulators focus on environment, energy, economy
By Lesia Winiarskyj
Since taking the helm of Connecticut’s newly created Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) last year, Commissioner Dan Esty has advanced what he refers to as “the triple E agenda: better environmental protection, movement to a cleaner, cheaper more reliable energy future, and a platform for economic growth, prosperity, and jobs success.”
Indeed, under Esty’s direction—and with considerable input from businesses—the agency has begun accelerating the permitting process, leaning its operations, and increasing its focus on assistance as an effective, efficient tool to maximize regulatory compliance.
Nicole Lugli, director of DEEP’s Office of Planning and Program Development, explains: “We met with small manufacturers and found out they couldn’t easily locate compliance assistance and guidance at DEEP. Many weren’t able to afford the tools and strategies to come into compliance. That was kind of an eye-opener for us,” she says.
“CBIA, our partner, was instrumental in the passage of legislation in 2011 requiring DEEP to develop a consulting services program to do on-site assistance.”
Rather than take punitive measures against small businesses for minor violations, which often pose little or no environmental risk but can trigger thousands of dollars in fines, DEEP’s compliance assistance programs give businesses the opportunity to identify and correct areas of noncompliance without significant penalties.
“We’re giving people an opportunity to come into compliance,” says Lugli. “We’re also improving web content and accessibility, making it user-friendly and interactive. Companies can subscribe to municipal and business newsletters on DEEP’s website and get updates and notices on new requirements and training.”
Over the next several months, DEEP will move forward on a wholesale overhaul of Connecticut’s environmental cleanup laws and regulations, with potentially significant implications for—and, CBIA hopes, significant input from—the regulated community.
“We’re optimistic that legislative and regulatory changes will result in an even more streamlined, efficient, and predictable system of environmental cleanup,” says Eric Brown, CBIA associate counsel specializing in environmental and energy issues.
‘21st Century Approach’
“We need a 21st century approach to environmental protection, to regulation, and to our energy strategies,” Commissioner Esty told business leaders at CBIA’s 2012 Environmental and Energy Conference.
More than 215 environmental health & safety professionals, engineers, project managers, consultants, and analysts attended the June program in Waterbury, which featured breakout sessions on environmental cleanup, management, and enforcement; a manufacturers’ roundtable; and sessions on clean, affordable energy.
“I think in Connecticut we have an opportunity to break new ground,” said Esty, “moving away from command-and-control regulations toward more focus on economic incentives, really trying to do things in a practical way, with common sense underpinning our choices, and doing things like rebuilding our remediaton program generally…getting brownfields back into productive economic use; doing things that are incentive-oriented, like changing the liability for off-site releases…[W]e are also trying to drive innovation…in terms of technology development, in terms of policy approaches, in terms of the financing for clean technology, clean energy. All of this we’re doing with a broad commitment to lighten the burden of regulation without lowering standards.”
Connecticut, in fact, already has some of the highest standards of environmental protection in the nation.
“We have run out in front of the rest of the country and want to be recognized for that as well as be given some flexibility,” said Esty, who acknowledged a “real spirit of partnership” between DEEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region I, which governs the six New England states.
The flexibility Esty refers to concerns EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., however, which still tends to favor traditional command-and-control strategies rather than more innovative, market-based approaches.
“New England is unique,” agreed EPA Region I Deputy Administrator Ira Leighton, who joined Esty in a keynote discussion and manufacturers’ roundtable at the conference.” We’ve had a tradition that most of our agencies have developed regulations stronger and broader in scope than elsewhere in the nation.”
Leighton emphasized the need for federal agencies to “partner with states to maintain economic competitiveness…assuring environmental compliance while also advancing economic development.”
‘Window into the Future’
Energy costs and policies are among the top three factors driving global manufacturing competitiveness, according to the 2010 Global Manufacturing Index developed by Deloitte and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness.
“On the energy side,” said Esty, “‘cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable’ is our mantra. The clean energy bank, LREC, ZREC…these are key pieces of our agenda. We’re dead serious about bringing down costs.
“We have a very nice window into the future, looking at what natural gas availability could do for Connecticut in the next 10–20 years. Shale gas is a game-changing element and part of [our] comprehensive energy strategy, [and] there will be programs to support this cheaper, cleaner fuel,” Esty said, pointing out that natural gas boasts a “two-thirds price differential over other types of fuel, thanks to the Marcellus Shale.”
The Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation covering several states, including much of Pennsylvania and New York, produces natural gas at levels that have surpassed industry projections. Because natural gas typically sets the price of electricity in New England’s wholesale market, better access to this cheaper resource would mean lower overall energy prices—including electric rates—for all end users in Connecticut. (Connecticut’s commercial and industrial electricity costs are the 10th highest in the U.S.)
“The question is, how do we take advantage of it? That’s a core question in our comprehensive energy strategy, and we will rely on the governor to help us answer it,” said Esty. “The problem in Connecticut is we have one of the lowest penetration rates for natural gas.” Expanding access, he noted, would “enormously benefit” residents and businesses.
One year ago, two powerful storms—Irene and Alfred—knocked out power throughout much of the state, resulting in business disruptions, lost wages, and other hardships for Connecticut residents and employers.
Over the last 60 years, said Leighton, large storms have increased in New England more than in other parts of the country, leading to problems with infrastructure, insurance costs, public health, and “all sorts of other extraordinary challenges resulting from power loss and the inability to treat wastewater.”
Esty agreed, adding that the state must focus not only on cheaper and cleaner energy but also more reliable energy, which requires protecting and upgrading the state’s energy transmission and distribution systems.
“Our emphasis this year is delivering on-the-ground results. This year’s mission is execution. Getting the job done.” ■
Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer and editor at CBIA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.