Transforming Connecticut’s Cleanup Regulations – A New Hope?

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Daniel Esty has begun an ambitious initiative to transform the state’s environmental cleanup programs; in the opinion of many citizens, this initiative is long overdue.  As environmental consultants practicing in Connecticut and neighboring Massachusetts, we see the similarities and the differences between the two state cleanup programs on a daily basis, and they are quite striking.  The Massachusetts program delegates more authority to their Licensed Site Professionals (LSPs) than Connecticut DEEP does to their equivalent Licensed Environmental Professionals (LEPs).   In Massachusetts, DEP selectively audits the cleanup work of LSPs, but has moved away from direct involvement in site specific decision making.  By contrast, the Connecticut DEEP’s program uses rigid state-wide standards and then conducts a very high percentage of  audits.  DEEP’s process delegates less authority to LEPs, increases cleanup costs, and reduces the predictability of a favorable outcome.

The differences in the success of the two programs speaks volumes.  In Massachusetts there is strong public support for the cleanup program by concerned citizens and the business community; what’s more approximately two thirds of reported sites have reached closure.  The Connecticut cleanup program does not enjoy a comparable level of popularity and has achieved satisfactory cleanups on only about 10% of all so-called “transfer” sites.  While at one time considered promising, the Connecticut program has not achieved the level of success originally envisioned.

Three steps that Connecticut DEEP could take to improve their cleanup program include:

  1. Delegate more responsibility for cleanup decision making to LEPs;
  2. Place greater emphasis on the use of site specific risk assessment as the preferred tool for determining when site cleanup is sufficient; and
  3. Revise the current groundwater protection classification system by differentiating between long term water quality objectives and realistic shorter term expectations for water quality given historic land use.

OTO is participating in the discussions that are part of the Connecticut program’s transformation.  Commissioner Esty is to be applauded for taking on the challenge of transforming the state’s cleanup program; we wish him the best of luck in this endeavor.