Legislative Wrap Up
The Connecticut legislature’s regular session wrapped up on June 9, 2021. There were some environmental victories and some losses, and unfortunately the legislature failed to aggressively address climate change mitigation, with the exception of a couple of bright spots. With time running out on the planet’s tipping point, action this year was discouraging and insufficient if we are to stem the worst effects of climate disaster.
One of these bright spots that will address emissions reduction in hopes of mitigating climate change is Senate Bill 356 (SB 356), An Act Establishing an Energy Retrofit Grant Program for Affordable Housing. This bill creates a program that provides access to an array of measures, including energy efficiency and weatherization, installation of rooftop solar, electric vehicle charging stations, heat pumps and balanced ventilation, and the mitigation of health and safety hazards, including gas leaks, asbestos, lead and radon. We expect the program to result in lowered energy expenses, lower energy demands on our grid, less pollution, reduced carbon emissions, and healthier homes for Connecticut residents. Kudos to Senator Rick Lopes and all the advocates who have worked tirelessly to get this bill passed and to those who have worked on this issue for years.
A bright spot to address toxic chemicals here in the state was the passage of SB 837, An Act Concerning the Use of Perfluoroalkyl or Polyfluoroalkyl substances in Class B Firefighting Foam. This bill bans the pervasive and dangerous chemical PFAS from certain consumer packaging sold in the state, along with banning it from fire fighting foam used for training. PFAS is a chemical used in many household products, and can lead to liver damage, birth defects, and developmental delays in children. Thanks to the advocates that worked for the passage of this bill and to the legislators that championed it.
The legislature also updated the Bottle bill (SB 1037), protected the Big Six African Species from trophy hunting and poaching, (SB 925), and helped secure a just transition to a clean energy labor force with prevailing wage guarantees and workforce development programs (SB 999).
An important bill that didn’t get passed during the regular session, but was part of the budget implementer passed in special session, was SB 1047, An Act Concerning Insurance and Climate Change. This bill will require insurance companies based in Connecticut to disclose their fossil fuel investments and fossil fuel project underwriting. This is a good step towards transparency in the industry.
The two most disappointing losses were SB 882, and SB 931. Senate Bill 882 would have codified the governor’s own executive order of 100% carbon-free energy supply by 2040. An amendment was offered to require the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to consider our Global Warming Solutions Act (mandated by Connecticut law!) when issuing permits. But DEEP raised concerns and the bill was never called for a vote in the Senate. This was one of the Governor’s priority bills and it unfortunately didn’t pass.
Senate Bill 931 would have allowed DEEP to consider and adopt emission standards for heavy duty and medium duty vehicles, based on California’s standards. It passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support but was not brought up for a vote in the House. As transportation emissions account for almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, passing the bill would have been a significant win for our residents suffering the worst effects of this pollution.
The legislature also failed to pass a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure and failed to strengthen protections for Environmental Justice Communities from air pollution and public health threats. They did, however, pass bills to expand the use of fossil gas in fuel cells and increased the subsidies for Class III sources of electricity which are not zero carbon. There is a disconnect between our goals for reducing emissions and the actions being taken to actually reduce them.
For more details and a full list of the bills we are tracking, please check out the Sierra Club Connecticut Recap of 2021 Legislative Session.
If you are interested in joining our legislative committee, please email committee chair, Art Helmus.
Ann Gadwah is the Sierra Club Connecticut Outreach Coordinator.