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Connecticut Environmental Legislation: Setbacks, Frustrations and Future Plans

By Meghan PortfolioMay 17 , 2024

Hartford Portfolio

On Friday, May 10, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (CTLCV) teamed up with state lawmakers to review the environmental outcomes of the 2024 legislative session. At the meeting, attendees highlighted its achievements, but also vented their frustrations, particularly on the ‘pay striking workers over’ bill taking precedence over environmental issues.


While providing a platform for reflection, the meeting also offered a sneak peek into their 2025 agenda. Lori Brown, Executive Director of the CTLCV, opened the meeting with a stark admission: “Right off the bat, I must say that failing to pass the climate legislation for the second consecutive year was a severe blow to Connecticut’s environmental future.” 


Brown specifically highlighted a large omnibus climate bill, dubbed the “Green Monster,” which passed the House but failed to come up for a vote in the Senate. She expressed her concern that its failure raises “serious questions about our state’s ability to reach our climate goals.”


Rep. Christine Palm (D-Chester), the leading proponent for the “Green Monster,” also shared her deep frustration over its failure, a defeat she attributes to filibusters “squandering time” and the priority of big labor interests at the expense of her environmental concerns.


What Rep. Palm is referring to is a bill that underwent significant changes in the House on May 3rd, where the original text was replaced with a provision that established a “slush fund,” purportedly for “low-income” workers but intended to use tax dollars to pay workers choosing to go out on strike. The Senate called the bill on May 8th — during the final moments of the session — where it passed across party lines.


According to Rep. Palm, she feels that Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven) “squandered” the opportunity to pass her climate bill, adding that “those striking workers on the picket line” if Gov. Ned Lamont signs the bill “are going to pass out from heat stroke.”


Additionally, she took issue with a comment by Sen. Looney she saw in the media, praising the striking worker bill as “good and humane.” Rep. Palm offered a sharp rebuke, asserting, “Yes, good for striking workers, not humane and not good for all 3.6 million Connecticut residents who are not on strike.”


She further quoted Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), who said the striking worker bill was “hostile to business.”


Rep. Palm also highlighted another big labor initiative that mandates most employers in the state to provide paid sick days, describing it as a “great worker protection bill.” Nevertheless, she subtly expressed that this legislation, while significant, ranks behind her environmental priorities. “They’re going to use those paid sick days when they are in the hospital with asthma,” she said.


Concluding her remarks, Rep. Palm said that although she is not seeking reelection in November, she remains committed to passing the legislation next year, promising “we’re gonna get this bill done next year. And we’re gonna get it done over my dead body.”


Sen. Christine Cohen (D-Guilford) continued the discussion by disclosing that Rep. Palm began efforts on her climate bill just two days after the close of last year’s session. She shared her empathy for such endeavors, noting how “disappointing and devastating it is when we all work so hard on something, and it doesn’t make it over the finish line.” Sen. Cohen cited the failure of the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) gas tax to pass as an example of such setbacks.


Taking Rep. Palm up on her offer to pass the “Green Monster” next year, Sen. Cohen said she “looks forward to working together so that we can see this pass.” She then publicly disclosed her vision for Connecticut’s environmental strategy for the first time, outlining a proposal for a state carbon budget.


“You’re hearing this here first,” Sen. Cohen said, noting that the plan was still in the early stages of development. “We are currently in the planning phases, but the goal is to establish a carbon budget for our state and ensure accountability among our agencies, particularly when they remove carbon sinks [anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases like trees].”


A carbon budget is the total amount of permissible carbon dioxide emissions over a specific period to maintain a set temperature limit. Proponents of this policy believe that if we exceed this budget, global temperatures will increase.


While Sen. Cohen advocated for a Connecticut carbon budget, she did not elaborate on enforcement mechanisms. However, given her continued focus on TCI, the implementation of some form of carbon tax could be a potential strategy. 


She could also look to California as Connecticut tends to do when it comes to matters of the environment. California does not have a carbon budget per se but has implemented climate policies that set limits on emissions similar to the concept of a carbon budget.


To meet their goals, California has introduced regulatory measures like banning the sale of new gas cars, renewable energy initiatives and a cap-and-trade tax program.


Another failed piece of legislation that is expected to make a comeback is a proposed ballot question that would add an amendment to the State Constitution recognizing the “individual right to clean and healthy air, water, soil, and environment; a stable climate; and self-sustaining ecosystems for the benefit of public health, safety, and the general welfare.”


The Green Amendment, as it is called, would establish these rights as inalienable, enabling Connecticut residents to directly enforce them through the legal system. Additionally, the resolution contains provisions that prohibit the diversion of funds designated for the protection of the state’s natural resources.


Despite only making it out of committee and not being brought to a vote in either chamber, Sen. Mae Flexer (D-Killingly) does not see this as a “failure.”


She believes there was progress on the Green Amendment stating that it successfully moved out of committee and sparked discussions among a broad range of stakeholders this year.


“We had a really great conversation,” Sen. Flexer said. However, she acknowledged that the discussions were somewhat hindered by stakeholder-related complications. Despite these challenges, she remains optimistic. “I really think we’re in a strong position to have that move forward over the next couple of years,” she said. 


Although the process has unfolded more slowly than some proponents would have liked, Sen. Flexer is confident that the amendment has made substantial progress this year and is on the brink of success, with aspirations to present it to Connecticut voters soon.


Introduced in 2023, this initiative faced similar challenges. Yet Lori Brown underlined that the Green Amendment is part of a significant, ongoing nationwide effort, affirming “that is certainly going to continue in Connecticut.” 


As environmentalists gear up for the next legislative session, there are concerns that their renewed efforts might bring forth more aggressive bills. While aiming to address environmental issues, these initiatives risk significantly increasing the cost of living for Connecticut residents. Despite its good intentions, such legislation could impose undue financial burdens on households already struggling with economic pressures, casting a shadow over the potential benefits of these environmental measures. 


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