Connecticut refuses key steps on climate

By CHRISTINE MARIE

Many cheered when Connecticut joined other states in proclaiming that they would stick to the Paris Agreement although the U.S. was pulling out. Unfortunately, the limits of that gesture became clear very soon.

On July 26, the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment released a long-awaited report, a draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The document, which was years in the crafting and supposedly influenced by a newly established Governor’s Council on Climate, in which the AFL-CIO and its Roundtable on Climate and Jobs had invested considerable energy, missed proposing the necessary steps to prevent climate catastrophe, and create the related jobs, by a disastrous margin.

Activists from the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, 350 CT, and many other organizations are protesting the state’s failure to take climate change seriously. They plan to use a series of public hearings in August and September to make their case to the broad public.

The authors of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), on the one hand nicely acknowledged all the concerns of climate activists and, on the other, projected business as usual in major areas of energy and environmental justice policy.

CT DEEP refused to commit to turning around the fracked gas build-out that has made New England a driver of and epicenter for disastrous levels of methane emissions. In fact, they entitle a section of their report “Shifting Toward Natural Gas as the Primary Fuel for Electric Generation.”

According to Dr. Robert Howarth, stopping the drilling, transportation, and burning of fracked gas—methane being a greenhouse gas up to 100 times more potent than CO2 in the very short term—is the single best tool that we have to buy time for a full transition to genuinely renewable solar, wind, and geothermal sources, and for carbon drawdown via agro-ecology, aforestation, and other reasonable methods.

Failure to act on methane could render any other measures moot, as the sudden rise of fracked gas emissions, if unchecked until 2040, is a factor that could push the earth over a climate tipping point all by itself.

Equally disturbing, though not unexpected, is the state’s refusal to shutdown the Millstone nuclear power plant. While the nuclear reactor site is expected to age out in 2040, the owners continue to petition for special consideration as a zero-carbon energy source. Each day of operation is a threat to health and well-being of the residents of a large part of New England and the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.

Aug. 2017 Millstone

Activist Rachel Heaton speaks about her thyroid cancer at 2005 rally against Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut.

Between 1995 and 1998 the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, not known for its diligence, shut all the reactors at Millstone and eventually levied the largest fine ever on the owners on for failing to adhere to safety rules. Between 2004 and 2014, the facility experienced four “near-miss” accidents.

Millstone currently stores the single greatest accumulation of nuclear waste in the country—in pools right on the Connecticut shore. The pools have been packed with rods too close together and at five times the capacity limit. At last count, this amounted to 445 million curies of radioactive waste, 167 million of which is Caesium-137. A loss of cooling water in the pools due to damage from an increasingly likely extreme ocean storm could result in a fire that contaminates a great deal of the Northeast. Yet, the state continues to treat Millstone as part of the current solution to climate change.

The CES is full of language about equity and environmental justice but this is only a cover for the state’s intention to keep carrying on major trash to electricity operations in Hartford at a rate that rains dangerous pollutants down on the African American and Puerto Rican children in this urban center, children who suffer asthma rates that would cause a revolution in suburban Connecticut.  Connecticut ranks first in the nation in income inequality and the placement of a refuse burning plant that processes 30% of all the trash in the state in one of its poorest urban centers is a disgrace. While a replacement plant is slated to do more recycling and less burning, and pay greater amounts of blood money to the city, the community remains rightfully skeptical that the state is functioning in its best interests.

Related is the failure to truly knit equity into even the limited plans to expand public transportation. According to the state’s own statistics, nearly 40% of emissions in Connecticut comes from transportation. Yet, the CES looks at the expansion of the bus and train system in terms of the development of gentrified housing around transportation hubs that will drive investment in the state.

Meanwhile, those currently and utterly dependent on mass transportation to get to factory work and other low-income jobs will continue to spend hours a day on the road in an effort to keep house and home together. An emergency transition to free green mass transit for all is well overdue.

In response to these signs that the state of Connecticut’s sign-up to the Paris Accord club is more posturing than action, 350 CT climate activists held an Aug. 13 general assembly, where they considered resolutions on policy, strategy, organization, and action for the coming six months. The conference approved proposals to strengthen the group’s conception of Just Transition in order to win a hearing from working people and oppressed communities in the state, reaffirming a structure for organizing based on democratic decision-making by the activist membership, and plans for a mass statewide rally. For more information about the event, visit 350CT.org.