Engaging in debates over policy and process, legislators split along party lines Friday as the Environment Committee sent to the floors of the House and Senate two bills addressing Connecticut’s struggle to manage solid waste disposal and curb climate change.
Both bills were rewritten in recent days to shed or sweeten controversial provisions, but the ultimate fates of the legislation still will turn in part on how lawmakers who stand for reelection every two years weigh near-term risks of market disruptions against long-term risks of moving too slowly.
House Bill 6664 is the Lamont administration’s ambitious attempt to end the annual export of 860,000 tons of trash to Midwest landfills by increasing recycling, removing food from the waste stream and pressuring manufacturers to reduce packaging, among other things.
Senate Bill 1145 is a legislative initiative supported by the administration to give the commissioner of energy and environmental protection more authority to press individual sectors of the economy to meet Connecticut’s existing goals of reducing greenhouse gases to 80% of 2001 levels by 2050.
Both bills passed Friday afternoon.
The vote on the climate bill came in the same week that the United Nations warned in an alarming new report that only an immediate shift from fossil fuels will save the planet from crossing a dangerous global warming threshold in as little as a decade.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we need to discuss ways we can curb our carbon emissions or carbon footprint. We should be doing it,” said Sen. Stephen Harding of Brookfield, the ranking Senate Republican on Environment. “But let’s have a debate as a committee, actually a real discussion like we had about TCI, about whether or not this is good policy. What this is doing is saying, ‘Let the commissioner do it.’”
TCI is the Transportation and Climate Initiative that failed in the 2020 legislative session after Republicans branded its funding source from an increase in gasoline prices as a tax. Republicans claim the climate bill would allow the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to unilaterally implement TCI.
Democrats and advocates say that is false.
“The idea that somehow this bill gives Connecticut the authority to unilaterally implement TCI is just not based upon the facts,” said Charles Rothenberg, a lobbyist and lawyer for Save the Sound. “It’s giving the agency the tools to do what the legislature has told them to do.”
TCI is a regional policy that would require reopening multi-state talks, and any measure with a significant fiscal impact would be subject to legislative review, he said.
“A lot of this framing is about distrust of the administration,” Rothenberger said.
The Republican minority objected to the climate-change bill with a flurry of failed amendments directed at what the GOP insisted was a delegation of legislative authority that would almost certainly result in actions moving the state away from fossil fuels and likely increasing the cost of energy, at least in the short term.
“It’s going to be devastating to our economy if it goes further,” said Rep. Patrick Callahan of New Fairfield, the ranking House Republican on the committee. “And I certainly will go back to my my district and tell them I voted no on increasing all their energy costs.”
Some of the opposition was directed at Katie Dykes, the environmental commissioner whom they faulted for seeking dramatic change, especially in the waste-and-recycling industry, without laying the groundwork through negotiations and outreach.
The waste bill would commit Connecticut to embracing EPR, or “extended producer responsibility,” which would shift the costs and potentially control of recycling from municipalities to industry stewardship programs.
In a thinly veiled jab at Dykes, Rep. Thomas O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said, “I think what you’re hearing here today is a desire to have more open communication with those that are being affected by such drastic policies coming coming from our government.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Sen. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, co-chair of Environment.
The waste bill was rewritten to strike a $5 a ton fee on municipalities for every ton of waste shipped to out-of-state landfills. The EPR section was amended to delay implementation until at least four other states with an aggregate population of 20 million did so, including at least one bordering Connecticut.
Even with the change, Republicans objected, saying its benefit was unclear and its potential for upending the state’s single-stream recycling was real. A Republican amendment to strike the EPR provision failed.
Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, said the EPR provision would provide a necessary push on manufacturers to use more environmentally sensitive packaging or take responsibility for its recycling.
“I believe that some of us have been waiting all our lives, all our lives, for industries to do the right things voluntarily,” Palm said. “And if they do not want the heavy hand of government coming down and telling them what to do, then they should self-police and pivot their business model the way so many other parts of our society have had to do because of changing times.”
The climate bill was amended to strike requirements for improvements to small gas engines. But Republicans said its reach still was too great, especially its demand that agriculture share in the responsibility for reducing carbon emissions.
“I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to anybody on the committee or in this room: Cows fart. They produce methane when they fart,” said Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican lawyer from the rural eastern Connecticut community of Chaplin. “They also burp. So do pigs.”
Dubitsky interpreted that to mean agriculture could be banished by an order of the commissioner of energy and environmental protection, an assertion that drew more laughs than serious rebuttal.
Lopes took a moment to say he was envisioning how the environment might be protected from animal flatuence.
Dykes has not suggested cows or pigs be banished from Connecticut.
This story originally appeared on the website of The Connecticut Mirror, www.ctmirror.org.