JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING MINOR REVISIONS TO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND AGRICULTURE-RELATED STATUTES.
Joint Favorable Substitute
Disclaimer: The following Joint Favorable Report is prepared for the benefit of the members of the General Assembly, solely for purposes of information, summarization and explanation and does not represent the intent of the General Assembly or either chamber thereof for any purpose.
SPONSORS OF BILL:
REASONS FOR BILL:
This bill includes, in part, recommendations made to the Environment Committee by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. The bill make various minor changes in environment and agriculture related statutes to (1) streamline the exchange of resources under the northeast forest fire compact, (2) provide a grace period for forestry certifications, (3) eliminate annual continuing education reporting of forest practitioners, (4) provide a grace period for pesticide certifications, (5) conform with federal changes of the 2014 federal Farm Bill, and (6) amend language regarding the siting of solar projects on prime farmland and core forestland.
SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE – LCO # 1829
Substitute language removes language pertaining to the siting of solar projects on prime farmland and core forestland (Section 7). Concerns have been brought to the Environment Committee's attention in regards to changing “materially affect” to “permanently affect”. Additionally, such language in regards to the siting of solar farms may better relate to, and may be included in, other bills the Environment Committee has raised.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Robert Klee, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP): Supports sections 1 through 4 and section 7 of the bill. Section 1: Connecticut currently does not have mutual aid for combating, controlling and preventing forest fires with all of the Forest Fire Compacts. Revisions to the statutes would allow mutual aid from all participating states in the Forest Fire Protection Compacts. Section 2 and Section 3: These provisions will reduce DEEP's administrative burden. Section 4: DEEP recommends the 60 day grace period for pesticide certifications be changed to one year so that it is aligned with the grace periods currently available to Arborists. Section 7: DEEP would like to offer language to reduce administrative burdens and to provide for mitigation of impacts to be considered by the Siting council.
Steven Reviczky, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg): Supports sections 5 and 6 the bill and provides comment on section 7. These sections are necessary to keep Connecticut eligible for federal funds towards farmland preservation efforts. This proposal addresses the federal change in program nomenclature by referencing & CFR 1468.1, et seq. and provides flexibility in the event that Congress creates a successor farmland protection program to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. DoAg would like to continue to work with the Environment Committee in regards to section 7 to achieve the following goals: (1) enact a more specific, measurable and predictable standard for evaluating the potential impact of a project on forest and farmland when determining eligibility to use the declaratory ruling process, and (2) clarify what information the Siting Council must consider in determining eligibility for declaratory ruling pursuant to section 16-50k and during the certification proceedings pursuant to section 16-50p.
Robin Stein, Chairman, Connecticut Siting Council (CSC): Commented on the bill. The bill should be amended to clarify existing statutory language and address the following: (1) encouragement of forum shopping, (2) timing of written representation by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg), (3) identify a deadline for submission of written responses from DEEP and DoAg, (4) provide an exemption of DEEP and DoAg written responses for solar projects proposed on brownfields and landfills, and (5) the impact of judicial appeals to CSC determinations if DEEP or DoAg fails to provide written representation.
Karl J. Wagener, Executive Director, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ): Opposes section 7. Current statute does not prohibit or restrict solar facilities on prime farmland or core forest; it guides the application process. Current law, passed in 2017, is good public policy. CEQ recommends that the Environment Committee keep existing law intact and let the Connecticut Siting Council balance the need for a project's electricity with its environmental impact.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Amy Blaymore Paterson, Executive Director, Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC): CLCC supports sections 1 through 6 and opposes section 7. Changing the word “materially” to “permanently” may have a significant impact in regards to the evaluation of siting solar facilities on prime farmland and core forests. Additionally, section 7 goes beyond the scope of a “minor revision” and should be evaluated as its own bill.
Gordon Gibson, Legislative Liaison, Connecticut State Grange: Supports the bill with strong emphasis on Sections 5 and 6 and shared personal testimony working for the Department of Environmental Protection as a supervisor for the acquisition of land for state parks, forests, and wildlife areas when the Connecticut Department of Agriculture first created their farmland preservation program. The sections 5 and 6 of the bill will give the Commissioner of United States Department of Agriculture programs to preserve diminishing farmland in Connecticut.
Terry Jones, Chairman of the Steering Committee, Working Lands Alliance (WLA): Supports Sections 5 and 6 as they align statutory language with federal programs that the Connecticut Department of Agriculture can benefit from. However, WLA shared concern with Section 7 as it represents a significant policy shift with potentially detrimental consequences. WLA urges the Environment Committee to remove section 7 and consider separate legislation to address the issue.
Eric Hammerling, Executive Director, Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA): CFPA supports sections 1 through 6 and opposes section 7. Sections 1 through 4 were put forward by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection after being thoroughly discussed and unanimously accepted by the Connecticut's Forest Practices Advisory board. Sections 5 and 6 are non-controversial. CFPA requests the committee remove section 7 and consider this provision in a separate bill.
Joan Nichols, Member, Forest Practices Advisory Board: Supports the bill with a recommended amendment to provisions concerning the Forest Practice Advisory Board. Shared testimony wherein the representative charged with appointing a member from the forest products industry filled the vacancy with a member who was not part of such industry. Testimony includes requested amendment to the bill written in statutory form.
Francis Pullaro, Executive Director, RENEW Northeast: Supports section 7 of the bill as it will give developers certainty on the standard for preserving prime farmland hosting solar development. However, the bill does not resolve the problem that expensive and time consuming judicial appeals are the only method for developers to contest a determination made by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. Testimony includes recommended changes to the bill written in statutory form.
Renewable Energy and Efficiency Business Association, Inc. (REEBA): Supports lines 484 through 487, which seek to amend Public Act 17-218. Unlike housing or commercial developments, solar arrays typically have a lifespan of 20-25 years, after which they can be decommissioned and removed. Additionally, REEBA requests the bill be amended to (1) require the agencies to affirmatively state, within a prescribed timeframe, that the project would have a permanent impact and (2) allow the Siting council to consider rebuttable evidence in opposition to the agencies findings, and (3) consider an applicant's mitigation plan.
Ralph Scarpino, Commissioner, Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact (NFFPC): Supports the wildland fire provision of the bill. Without the bill, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) will not be able to assist local fire departments as defined by statute in situations when there are multiple fires within the state. Shared testimony of the procedures during instances of a wildfire and shared the importance of this provision because of the following reasons: (1) DEEP would require help from other states responding to wildfire because of their reduction in staff, (2) nine of the twelve NFFPC agencies have already adopted these changes, (3) exchange of resources from compact agencies efficient and lest costly, and (4) the revisions are minor, will not have any fiscal impact, and will update language to be in par with other Emergency Management language.
Brennan J. Sheahan, President, Connecticut Professional Timber Producers Association (TIMPRO): Supports section 2 of the bill as it will promote the forest products industry and improve businesses ability to conduct business within the state. Opposes section 7 of the bill as changing the wording to “permanently” would make the ability to maintain property rights for private landowners difficult. TIMPRO also requests changes made to Section 1 of the bill as the means by which the appointments to the Forest Practices Advisory Committee is vague. Testimony includes a recommended amendment for Section 23-65g of the general statutes, written in statutory form.
Henry N. Talmage, Executive Director, Connecticut Farm Bureau Association: This bill makes important technical changes to the Forest Practitioner certification and licensing requirements that are consistent with recommendations made by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Forest Practices Advisory Board and is also supported by the forest products industry. The bill also provides a mechanism to align state program titles with the federal farmland program titles and allows for subsequent program title changes. However, the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association is concerned with the proposed language change in Section 7 as such change appears less objectionable to develop large scale solar projects on prime farmland and core forests.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Many testimonies shared with the Environment Committee support certain sections of the bills while opposing or commenting on other sections. Please refer to testimonies summarized in the “Nature and Sources of Support” section.
Reported by: Steve Smith / Ussawin R. Bumpen