Kennedy Summit Draws Top Environmentalists

Marcia Chambers PhotoThe death of bees, battery and tire recycling (especially on athletic fields), animal abuse, consumer packaging, plastic bags and funding for state parks are likely to be State Sen. Kennedy, Jr.,’s top priorities in the upcoming 2016 legislative session. These issues emerged at the top of the list as Kennedy hosted a first-ever strategic planning summit in Branford Thursday night to discuss environmental issues facing the state.

Kennedy, co-chair of the state legislature’s Environment Committee, said the event was designed to explore ways to tackle issues facing the shoreline district and the state. Kennedy represents the 12th District, which consists of Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison and North Branford. Kennedy said, “I’m open to ideas here,” he said. “That’s what the purpose of this summit is for.”

Marcia Chambers PhotoThe three-hour summit, held at the Branford Fire headquarters, was videotaped by BCTV and will be broadcast in all the towns, Kennedy said. About 90 people attended, many of whom were among the top environmental leaders in the state and the district. Before the program began, the audience and panelists from different fields networked, some meeting one another for the first time.

Kennedy’s 2016 Legislative Agenda

The evening also served as a curtain raiser for Kennedy’s 2016 legislative agenda, which gets underway when the legislature returns to Hartford in early February.

Marcia Chambers PhotoIn his opening remarks, Kennedy told the audience, “The goals of the summit are to identify the critical issues facing our region, to prioritize the emerging environmental issues before the upcoming legislative session, to strategize about how to improve the quality of our environmental assets and to brainstorm how to engage the citizenry about how to achieve some of these goals. “

Kennedy said this session he plans to focus on is consumer packaging, an area he says that is out of control.  Cyber Monday Internet shopping, he said, has gone up over 60 percent in one year. What does that mean? He asked. “It means every time somebody orders something on line and it gets conveniently delivered to your house by Federal Express or UPS, there are normally three packages in one box. The first covers the product the consumer bought, the secondary package – the larger box is the box it comes in – and the third or tertiary package is the stuffing within the box. And who pays the price for that?  The towns and cities do, he said. “We are increasing our solid waste because of online shopping,” he said adding he plans to delve into this topic.

The Politics of Plastic Bags

There were four panels and as panelists spoke the main issues to emerge were written on a white board that will serve as a point of departure for upcoming bills.

The first panel was entitled “Reducing Pesticide Use and Ensuring Pollinator Health,” led by representatives from Bishop’s Orchards, Shadle Farm, the Watershed Partnership, and the Agricultural Experiment Station. This panel explored the impact that excessive pesticide and herbicide use has on the decline in bee populations.

Marcia Chambers PhotoThe second panel, “Product Stewardship,” was led by Kennedy and Rob LaFrance from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Ed Meyer, the 12th District’s former state senator, led the discussion on past legislative success stories, including paint disposal and how the paint industry agreed to take charge of the end life of its product. Kennedy said that wherever possible it is important “to work in concert with business.” He said he plans to do just that when it comes to flashlight batteries and how to dispose of them and plastic bags. 

Meyer provided the main off-script question when he raised the role of politics in seeking new environmental legislation, especially when it comes to plastic bags and changing the habits of consumers and grocery stores alike. 

Marcia Chambers PhotoAt one point Meyer (pictured)asked Kennedy how was going to get some sort of plastic bag legislation passed. “I was almost tarred and feathered,” Meyer told the audience, describing the landscape when as the chair of the senate’s environment committee he attempted to get rid of plastic bags. 

“You are a tiger and you’re going to keep moving it, and you are eventually going to get it passed. How do you get to the fact that so many people in Connecticut and throughout the country don’t understand the problem of disposable plastic? Talk about the political side of it, ” Meyer requested. 

Kennedy said he didn’t know he was going to have to talk about the politics of plastic. But Meyer’s question provided the insight necessary for the audience to understand why environmental bills may fail.

Kennedy began with statistics. “The issue is we consume a billion single use plastic bags in the state of Connecticut every year. So what I tried to
do together with a number of colleagues in Hartford was to come up with an idea that would dramatically reduce that number. Originally it was a simple ban on single use plastic bags. That was politically untenable for a number of reasons, mostly because if people felt they were in a jam on the way home and couldn’t use a plastic bag. That was a problem.

“Plus we realized if we could use a 5-cent fee, we could achieve a lot of what we were setting out to do, and more importantly we could get the endorsement of the grocery industry in this state. The grocery industry is the largest user of single plastic bags. I am thinking if I can get them, and I am talking about the Stop and Shops and the Big Y’s, these folks, if I can get them to sign onto a bill then we would have a lot better chance of getting something like this passed.

“With a 5-cent fee, 5 cents times 1 billion is $50 million dollars a year. We looked at the District of Columbia and other places that did this, and they
saw approximately a 50 percent reduction. We had a report that even if you exempted people on public assistance, meaning food stamps, who would not pay the 5 cents, plus you calculated the reduction of 50 percent you would still generate between $20 million and $25 million a year and help save the environment.

“Well, I thought this was a brilliant idea because the last time I checked, our state is broke, right?” he said, as folks laughed. “They are going to think this is the greatest idea since sliced bread because this comes up with a way to save money for the state. But unfortunately some of my colleagues didn’t exactly feel the same way. Some viewed it is a tax even though we had a program in place to use free, re-usable bags. 

“Sometimes it takes a little socialization,” he said, adding sometimes transition is hard. Then he suggested a new approach, based on the experience of the District of Columbia. “They used the money to clean up the Anacostia River. I think if people felt that this money would go to some specifically designed program to help the environment they would buy into this idea. 

“My view is if we can protect these funds, give them to state parks, urban forestry, fisheries it would be a win-win. Great for state, great for environment and would bring help of $20 million a year in our budget.” 

Meyer, who had been listening carefully, said, “I think you are going to get it done, Ted.” 

Marcia Chambers PhotoThe third panel was entitled “Protecting Wildlife and Advancing Animal Welfare,” led by Jo-Anne Basile, of Connecticut Votes for Animals; Laura Burban, director of the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford; and Stewart Hudson, executive director of Audubon Connecticut and vice-president of the National Audubon Society. This panel focused on strategies for better protecting wildlife and environmentally sensitive habitats in Connecticut. The panel also spoke about a need to stiffen penalties in animal cruelty cases.

Marcia Chambers PhotoThe final panel discussed how best to protect Long Island Sound, state parks, open space and the Connecticut shoreline. It was led by representatives from Friends of Connecticut State Parks, Save the Sound, the Guilford Land Conservation Trust, and the Center for Energy and Environmental Law at the University Of Connecticut School Of Law. The panel discussed the impact of climate change on the region and how state and municipal governments can prepare for change through proactive zoning and other measures. The panelists discussed expanding revenue-generating services at state parks, a project Kennedy pushed for during the last legislative session.

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