by John Dankosky – Amey Marella is pretty new to her job as Connecticut’s DEP commissioner, but it must seem like she’s been at it for a loooooong time. With the state continuing to hemorrhage jobs, lawmakers – spurred by the business community – are pushing for changes to her department. They say businesses have trouble working with the agency; they say the permitting process is too long and too confusing; and they say that the DEP is too much of an “advocate for the environment.” (More on that later)
As Mark Pazniokas reported in The Connecticut Mirror in February, bills aimed at changing the department range from “nuanced” to “openly hostile.” One bill would eliminate the DEP altogether and let the Department of Economic and Community Development handle the permitting. Another would prescribe more oversight of DEP’s “guidance statements” that tell companies how to comply.
DEP supporters say the agency is short-staffed, and that’s part of the reason for long permitting delays. But, Christopher Phelps of Connecticut Environment told the Mirror that these bills are aimed at something more fundamental: “Taking the environment cops off the beat.”
Some observations, which I’ll be talking about with Marella:
- Several of these bills, including the one that would put environmental regulation in the hands of a state development agency are being pushed by Democrats, who have generally been kinder to environmental regulations.
- Marella, having heard from lawmakers and Governor Rell has worked to “streamline” the permitting process. (But the example she gave Pazniokas of an easier road to get your residential boat dock built will not exactly thrill business advocates.)
- The CBIA is very involved in this issue, and lobbyist Eric Brown told the Hartford Business Journal “I think the problem with DEP is that too often it views itself as an advocate for the environment,” Brown said. “But the DEP’s responsibility is not just to the environment, it’s also to the state and economy.” I can’t wait to get Marella’s reaction to that.
- In other writing, Brown seems to set up an either-or situation: “Environmental advocates and the DEP both claim publicly that a strong environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand. Businesses agree. But while we have the cleanest environment in at least 150 years, our economy is the worst it has been in decades.”
- Finally, all this talk of a DEP that’s not “business-friendly” reminds me of the reporting WNPR’s Nancy Cohen did years ago on the Rowland-era department, at a very different time in its history. A time when regulators were sometimes told by superiors that business interests should supersede environmental concerns. A time when political favors were tied to environmental regulations, and whistleblowers were muzzled.
- We’ll also be talking about the impact of higher fees at state parks – meant to help close the budget gap. Will this mean fewer people enjoying Connecticut’s natural resources?
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