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‘Green Monster’ Bill Will Have Environmental Lawyers Seeing Green

On Thursday (Feb.29), the eagerly awaited “Green Monster” bill was unveiled with significant changes, since originally reported, and has a public hearing set for March 8.

Notably, the bill eliminates the mandate for electrification in all new and remodeled private sector constructions. This mandate will now exclusively apply to new or existing state buildings, which are to be built or, during renovations, retrofitted to use electrical systems that are not reliant on fossil fuels or greenhouse gas emissions, contingent upon the availability of funding for these projects. 

The bill also amends a current law that permits the state, individuals and businesses to face legal action to ensure the public’s right to clean air, water and the protection of essential natural resources against unreasonable pollution, impairment or destruction. 

The proposed change would expand this legal framework, allowing for these entities to also be held accountable through lawsuits for not achieving the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals set by the Connecticut Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). 

The targets defined in GWSA are to reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide to 45% below 2001 levels by 2030 and 80% below 2001 levels by 2050. The bill, however, adds a new goal of achieving at least 65% below the level emitted in 2001 by 2040. 

The most recent data issued by the Department of Energy and Environment (DEEP) in 2021 showed that the state is falling short of its environmental benchmarks with the transportation sector accounting for 40% of the total emissions. 

It is not clear who will sue whom if the benchmarks are not met after the bill’s passage. It is hoped that further details will emerge during the upcoming public hearing. 

Another contentious provision is a requirement that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) opens a docket exploring how the state can phase out natural gas usage in accordance with the GWSA goals. PURA must present legislative recommendations by January 1, 2026. 

Given that natural gas powers over half of the state’s electricity generation, concerns arise about how the state plans to compensate for this loss  — especially in light of the push towards greater electrification. 

The need for a reliable energy source to avoid blackouts is paramount. The grid operators may turn to coal, which is less environmentally friendly than natural gas, or more plausibly, mandate the adoption of pricier renewable energies like solar and wind, which could lead to increased electricity bills for residents and businesses. 

The proposed legislation also includes a pilot program allowing zero-carbon startup businesses to occupy vacant state-owned properties without paying rent for up to three years. An alternative proposal for such underutilized assets would be to sell them off for new housing projects. This approach could bolster local economies by bringing additional tax revenue to the municipalities where these buildings are located. 

The latest revision of the bill requires the Department of Revenue Services (DRS) and Department of Economic Community Development (DECD) to provide a list of fees to be waived for certified B-Corporations — a designation that a business meets standards of social and environmental performance.  

While waiving fees for the private sector is always welcome, the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers solely on their alignment with progressive values. 

Additionally, the bill makes an official declaration of a climate crisis, a move intended to signal the government’s determination to prioritize climate change legislation. Yet this declaration lacks a concrete enforcement mechanism to ensure such legislation is implemented.  

The legislation also mentions that it doesn’t authorize the governor to use provisions in the bill to “operate the government of the state through executive order.” This provision is unnecessary, given that a separate bill is currently in consideration, which seeks to extend the governor’s authority to declare a civil preparedness emergency in response to climate change. 

Bill Lets Governor Declare Civil Preparedness Emergency Over Climate Change 

During a public hearing held by the Environment Committee on Wednesday (Feb. 28), legislators questioned Katie Dykes, Commissioner of DEEP, regarding a provision in a bill that will empower the governor to issue a civil preparedness emergency declaration in response to climate change threats. 

Currently, the governor has the authority to declare a civil preparedness emergency in cases of severe disasters, including natural events like hurricanes, tsunamis, snowstorms, and droughts, as well as in situations involving enemy attacks, sabotage, or other hostile actions occurring within or near the state, or if such events are imminent. 

The proposed bill lacks a specific definition for climate change, allowing any governor the discretion to declare an emergency under the guise of addressing climate change. Rep. Doug Dubitsky (R-Chaplin) raised a concern to the commissioner, questioning whether a declared climate change emergency could potentially grant indefinite executive control of the state to a sitting governor. 

In response, Dykes argued that the “best opportunities that we have to address climate change are those that we can take on today.” She emphasized the importance of the General Assembly “invest[ing] in and ensur[ing] that there is prudent planning to better prepare our communities for these extreme weather events,” which would not require the need to take “executive control over the state.” 

In other words, Dykes suggests that proactive legislation aimed at reducing  climate change’s effects could eliminate the need for declaring an emergency. However, should the legislature fail to act, it might compel the governor to exercise this emergency power.  

Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-New Canaan) seeking to get further clarification asked, “What is the thought process under what a climate change emergency would be for that to be a trigger for the governor.” 

Dykes emphasized that “I think the intent here is to make sure that in the event of an unprecedented emergency situation where those emergency powers may be unclear that we’re not potentially putting public safety and property at risk.”  

She further reiterated that “to the extent that there’s a concern about minimizing the use of emergency powers” the General Assembly could provide more tools, investment and more regulatory authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If so, she asserts, then the use of emergency powers “would be rare.” 

Questions also came from the other side of the aisle. Rep. Christine Palm (D-Chester) asked if “we were globally to reduce carbon and actually come out of an emergency state, those executive orders or provisions would be lifted. Would they not be the same as during COVID when that allegedly ended?” 

Dykes, somewhat evasively, stated that the provision is designed to provide “greater clarity for the executive branch to be able to implement” and take “emergency measures necessary to address human health and safety challenges caused by climate change.” 

Addressing the vague terminology of climate change, Rep. Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford) asked if “we could use more specific language that describes triggers for immediate climate emergency impacts” offering suggestions like projected rainfall or length of a drought or fire hazard.  

Assuring Rep. Mushinsky that she would “give some more thought” to her question, Dykes went on to say that “the intent of this language is really to strengthen emergency preparedness for climate change with respect to resilience and responding to the effects and the impacts of climate change on communities.” 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont frequently exercised the civil preparedness power, implementing measures such as restricting public gatherings, closing schools, limiting nursing home visitations, and mandating the closure of certain businesses like gyms and movie theaters while requiring bars and restaurants to serve food and beverages solely for takeout or delivery. 

During the pandemic, the use of emergency powers by Gov. Lamont to shut down businesses was challenged in court. The State Supreme Court ultimately sided with him, confirming that the pandemic constituted a serious disaster and that the governor had the authority to act for the sake of public health and safety. 

Given the precedent set by the court’s ruling, this will equip any governor with the ability to declare a civil preparedness emergency in response to climate change if that governor declares it a serious disaster. This decision enables the state to adopt similar strategies that were deployed during the pandemic to protect us from any climate-related emergency. However, the ambiguous and undefined term “climate change” raises concerns about the appropriateness of granting such expansive power to the executive branch. 

This Week on Yankee’s Podcast Y CT Matters 

In a recent report by PJ Media, over 75% of red state business owners say they are happy in their current location, while only about 30% of blue state employers say the same. So what is it like doing business in Connecticut? Chris Ulbrich — CEO of Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals, Inc. — explains the positives and challenges of operating in the Constitution State. Learn more about his company, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, here. 

Click here to listen 

Meghan Portfolio

Meghan worked in the private sector for two decades in various roles in management, sales, and project management. She was an intern on a presidential campaign and field organizer in a governor’s race. Meghan, a Connecticut native, joined Yankee Institute in 2019 as the Development Manager. After two years with Yankee, she has moved into the policy space as Yankee’s Manager of Research and Analysis. When she isn’t keeping up with local and current news, she enjoys running–having completed seven marathons–and reading her way through Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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