Transforming Connecticut’s Site Cleanup Program (2)

As described in an earlier post, the Connecticut DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) is working to transform its 16 separate site cleanup programs to make the overall system more efficient and productive.  Many of the program problems are due to regulatory inflexibility; and that inflexibility reflects a fear that without close state agency involvement, cleanups will not conducted to the standards needed to protect public safety.  Despite good intentions, this fear has hindered Connecticut’s ability to develop waste site cleanup momentum.  By creating regulatory road blocks and amplifying financial risks, DEEP has depressed developer’s appetite for site cleanups.  So instead, dirty sites fester for decades.

Enter the relatively new DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty.  On-leave from Yale where he is a joint professor at the Law School and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, he joins DEEP with a long list of accomplishments.   A champion of “next generation” regulation, he looks to private companies to take the initiative on environmental issues.  He is also an advocate of data-based environmental decision making; a principle we at OTO fervently applaud.   Esty has taken on the job of evaluating and transforming the state’s cleanup programs and his schedule is aggressive; a report is due to the State Legislature by December 15, 2011.

Commissioner Esty’s point man for managing the transformation of the cleanup regulations is Graham Stevens.  In addition to his job at DEEP, Stevens, a 1998 graduate of Clark University is also pursuing graduate studies at UConn.  After demonstrating strong leadership ability at the Department, he moved up quickly and was named Chief of Staff to former DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy.  He now serves as the Department’s Brownfields Coordinator.  Stevens has developed a network of relationships throughout state government from the legislative to the municipal level.  As former hockey player, Esty sees Stevens as a team member who can score an important goal.

Stevens’s biggest challenge will be getting the report on transforming the site cleanup program into the net by the December 2011 deadline; a similar process in New Jersey took 18 months.  And not everyone involved necessarily wants to see him succeed. Arrayed in front of him are a group of influential players in government, legal and technical professions with vested interests in limiting the cleanup program changes.

We at OTO are fully supportive of the Commissioner’s goals.  OTO has two senior people contributing to the process.  Among our recommendations for change will be the incorporation of site specific risk assessments as a vital tool for demonstrating when a cleanup is sufficient. Whether meaningful change can ultimately be realized remains to be seen, but we are pleased to see this initiative moving forward.