House Bill 7008 isn't just an improvement on the state's original environmental justice law, enacted in 2008.
It is a reflection of new standards of accountability, and what Audubon hopes is a new normal—requiring facilities that impact the environment to come to the table and communicate more with the public and lawmakers. In doing so, it creates more opportunity for local communities to make their voices heard.
"HB7008 represents a reasonable expansion of the 2008 EJ Law that we strongly support. It offers other states a great example of how, in a bipartisan way, better standards for people and the environment can be set," said Audubon Connecticut Policy Director Robert LaFrance, who advocated to ensure the bill made it to this week's Special Session.
Connecticut’s 2008 Environmental Justice (EJ) Law represented a compromise—after a spirited debate—of conflicting interests. The 2008 EJ Law focused on the definitions of “environmental justice community,” “affecting facility,” “meaningful public participation,” and “community environmental benefit agreement.” While it has been working, some common sense amendments were warranted.
“This new bill gives a real voice to communities that are disproportionately impacted by affecting facilities”" said Ana Paula Tavares, executive director of Audubon Connecticut and Audubon New York. "The flexibility shown by both sides of the isle on this bill has real value because it will ensure that folks who live in environmental justice communities have a seat at the bargaining table. We applaud our lawmakers for putting the health of Connecticut's people and environment first."
Environmental Justice – HB7008 passed 134 – 2 (with 15 absent) in the House and 35 to 1 in the Senate. The legislation can be found here. The bill makes several changes to the 2008 EJ Law, some of which are as follows:
- Requires, instead of allowing, applicants to post certain notices and notify elected officials for purposes of informing the public about the informal public meeting on a proposed facility.
- Deems an application insufficient if certain notice and information disclosure requirements are not met.
- Requires a community environmental benefit agreement in municipalities already hosting at least five permitted affecting facilities.
- Requires the municipal chief elected official or town manager to participate in community environmental benefit agreement negotiations and, if the municipality’s legislative body approves it, implement, administer, and enforce the agreement.
Audubon Connecticut supported a similar bill during the regular Legislative Session, and our testimony can be found here. Unfortunately, the regular Legislative Session was cut short by the COVID pandemic. While House Bill 5103 - AN ACT REQUIRING AN EVALUATION OF THE STATE'S ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE LAW was raised during the regular Legislative Session--and favorably voted out of the Environment Committee, it did not pass both chambers of Connecticut’s General Assembly before the end of the Regular Session and was thus “dead.”
On September 25th, Governor Lamont called the General Assembly into Special Session, including environmental justice as a key issue for consideration. HB7008 was written and passed with broad bipartisan support.
Environmental justice bills are one important step that will help local communities meet the challenges we face in the wake of climate change. Our own research has shown that bird populations will be devastated if we don’t take steps to address rising global temperatures. We must ensure the burdens of climate change don't fall on those who are most vulnerable.