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Cumulative Impacts

Susan Eastwood

Summer 2023

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” – Wendell Berry

 

We were disappointed in the results of this legislative session. Many promising bills died or were watered down. While strong bills were passed on voting rights, gun control, and healthcare, little was done for the most urgent issue of our time – climate change. Even worse, the General Assembly failed to pass waste reduction policies, instead supporting additional dirty waste infrastructure. 

 

One highlight, however, was the passage of Senate Bill 1147, An Act Concerning Environmental Justice, which strengthens existing law by allowing DEEP and the Connecticut Siting Council to consider the “cumulative impacts” of multiple polluting facilities in environmental justice communities, and the ability to deny permits for facilities that would worsen pollution in already-overburdened areas.

 

Historically, those dirty facilities have been located in communities of color or low income, often called “distressed” or “environmental justice” communities. These communities often lack the resources to fight the siting of polluting facilities that affect the health of their residents and destroy their environments. Over time, more dangerous and polluting industrial and power generating plants, as well as waste facilities, have been added disproportionately in these communities, leading to “cumulative impacts” of multiplied pollutants concentrated in one area, with chronic health problems like asthma and cancers among the consequences. “Cancer alley” in Louisiana is a well-known case of this.

 

In Connecticut, we have some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest communities in the country. The DECD identified 30 towns and cities as distressed municipalities in 2022. Right now, some of those towns are suffering from the cumulative impacts of polluting facilities. The DEEP “Environmental Justice Affecting Facilities” map shows polluting facilities overlaid on the distressed municipalities in our state. This reveals the historical discrimination and cumulative impacts shockingly well. For example, Hartford has seven affecting facilities and a population that is 85% minority. Advocates, including the CT Coalition for Economic and Environmental Justice and Sierra Club Connecticut, have worked to shut down polluting facilities like the MIRA waste incinerator, which closed in July 2022, and to advocate for the Capitol Area System in Hartford to transition from a fossil-fuel based system to one run on 100% clean and renewable energy. If you look at the four waste incinerators still in operation, you see that two of them are located in distressed municipalities: Bristol (four affecting facilities, 27% minority) and Bridgeport (nine affecting facilities, 81% minority). Two smaller incinerators operate in Lisbon and Preston, both partially distressed small towns in Eastern Connecticut, located in a cluster of distressed municipalities and affecting facilities. 

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Photo: Bridgeport smokestack

Photo credit: Flickr - Rui Pinho

Think about the cumulative impacts in a community with nine polluting facilities, as in Bridgeport. High levels of asthma, respiratory disease, heart disease, cancers. Polluted air and water. Residents describe daily headaches and coughs. The families that live in over polluted communities deserve protection from dangerous, dirty air and water.

 

Legislation requiring consideration of the cumulative impacts of polluting facilities, as well as more transparency and community input in siting decisions, is a major step forward. Let’s come back strong next year and add to this win with more aid for remediation of the impacts of existing polluting facilities and focus on expanding energy efficiency and renewables statewide.

Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.

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