Thursday, January 05, 2006

Audubon's Opinion of Connecticut's Decision to Cutback on its Long Island Sound Cleanup Program

Tom Baptist, the executive director of Audubon Connecticut, made a number of good points in his testimony yesterday on Connecticut’s decision to stop putting money into the Clean Water Fund. You’ll remember that the decision will result in a lot more nitrogen entering Long Island Sound over the short term than if the Legislature put enough money in the Clean Water Fund. Nitrogen is what causes the severe oxygen drop in the Sound each summer, making much of the western half of the Sound uninhabitable for marine life.

Baptist pointed out – and I hadn’t realized this – that Connecticut’s decision to stop funding the Clean Water Fund is the culmination of a trend:

During the past few years … the State has begun backing away from its historic commitment to clean water in Connecticut, raiding the Clean Water Fund to make up for other budgetary shortfalls. The CWF has received an average of about $50 million per year in general obligation bond funding from the state. In 2003, the General Assembly approved a recission of $18 million from previously authorized bond levels. In 2004, legislators approved a $60 million recission. In 2005, however, the General Assembly voted NOT to provide any bond funding at all for the state Clean Water Fund. The only financial support available for projects this past year came from funds carried over from 2004.

That’s noteworthy, as he said, because over the years the state has had a serious and well-financed pollution reduction program that has resulted in a number of major improvements:

These improvements include: reducing nitrogen discharge into the Sound by more than one third since 1990; reducing the number of combined sewage overflows (CSOs) that send raw sewage directly into rivers or the Sound by almost half…

The one-third figure he was referring to means that Connecticut had made big strides toward the federal-state goal of reducing the amount of nitrogen that enters the Sound by 58.5 percent:

Without adequate funding for nitrogen reduction projects through the CWF, however, the DEP has already had to back away from this approved goal. This past November, as part of the review of the State’s General Permit for nitrogen, the DEP proposed to relax its standards for nitrogen discharges. Citing the lack of funding for nitrogen reduction projects funded by CWF, DEP proposed allowing 1.5 million pounds more of nitrogen to be discharged into Long Island Sound this year than would have been previously allowed.

Audubon Connecticut joined other environmental organizations in protesting the DEP’s proposal, but sadly, these limits were approved as part of state’s General Permit for nitrogen. Under these revised limits and without sufficient funding, Connecticut will no longer be able to meet its commitment to reduce nitrogen discharge into the Sound by 58.5% by 2014. This set back is due solely to the lack of funding available for previously planned water pollution control projects.

And he concluded by putting the onus exactly where it belongs: on the General Assembly:

Audubon Connecticut urges the General Assembly to re-commit to the future of clean water in Connecticut. When the legislative session begins in February, Audubon will be joining with other allies to call for a restoration of general obligation bond funding for the state Clean Water Fund. We owe it to future generations to leave a legacy of clean, pure water, and we have the means to accomplish that goal.

The only news story I could find about the hearing, by the way, was in the Connecticut Post, which took a parochial view. Here it is.

12:20 p.m. ... Robert Miller of the Danbury News Times has a good, full account of what went on, here.


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