Brendan Hanrahan thinks more should be done for the environment in Connecticut. He feels so strongly about it, CT EarthNet, an interactive, web-based network for environmental groups Hanrahan founded, has produced a summary of the 2009 legislation for environmental practices that were not passed this year. The summary also includes visualizations of the legislative session data such as issue heat maps, voting outcomes, and legislator similarity comparisons. The bills touched a variety of environmental topics from toxic chemicals to wetland management to energy efficiency and everything in between.
Thirty-six bills were presented about renewable, clean energy. None became law. Thirty-two bills were presented on various points of energy efficiency. None became law. With thirty-two bills on public transportation, only one became law. Out of the twenty-four bills presented for recycling and waste measures, two passed and became law.
And the list goes on. What this says, at least in Hanrahan’s eyes, is that Connecticut may give lip service to the environment. But when all is said and done, the state may actually fall a little short.
So are we just becoming a bit too complacent about the environment? Has “going green” become so mainstream that we’re not taking it as seriously as we should?
In the summary, Hanrahan makes a case for that. As he sees it, we’re running out of time to address some very serious environmental issues. “With time short and environmental problems more urgent, the need to know the pace of progress toward sustainable resource management accomplished by current approaches to lawmaking is greater.”
When it comes to the environment, our hearts may be in the right place. But to Hanrahan’s point, we’re just not seeing progress quickly enough, particularly at the state level.
“Environmental bills fail,” he said in a recent e-mail, “because we continue to take the same old approach to lawmaking without evaluating its effectiveness or measuring our progress toward sustainable environmental management.”
He went on to say that the state's top environmental advocacy groups historically “rely heavily on paid lobbyists despite the fact that they are outspent 4 to 1 by pro-business interests.” His organization estimates those advocacy groups would have to spend ten times more to compete.
He says that with the over 1,200 groups in the state engaged with environmental issues with some 4,000 directors and staff and many more volunteers, more can be done to engage grassroots support and encourage public participation in government. But one of his major solutions to this is using his organization’s web site.
CT EarthNet is a site that provides a network for small community environmental groups to share information. When asked if he thought this might be self-promoting, he said, “People want to know what the problems are that affect local communities and what others have done to solve them. Advocates can use our resource and others to get up on the issues, find related experience and talk to their neighbors about new ideas that are out there or things others have done about recycling or vehicle idling or energy conservation that they can do as well.”
Big change can be made. But it doesn’t necessarily start at the top. It starts small and local. And that’s the point Hanrahan is making about connecting grassroots community-based movements in the 169 towns and cities within Connecticut. These small groups often lack the necessary funding and the political clout to affect that big change.
But comparatively speaking, Connecticut typically ranks as one of the top ten states when it comes to environmental issues. Take energy efficiency. As reported by Reuters earlier this morning, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has issued a “scorecard” on the energy efficiency of all 50 states from best to worst. Connecticut ranks in the top ten along with New York and Massachusetts as well as environmental heavyweights like California.
In an October 2009 report from the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory on ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs, Connecticut was listed as a “traditional leader” in comparison to other states. The Rocky Mountain Institute produced a report in January entitled “Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the U.S. Efficiency Opportunity” which showed there are some states that are doing a much better job than others when it comes to electricity production and energy consumption. Again, Connecticut was ranked in the top ten.
Besides energy efficiency, CT EarthNet’s summary will also tell you that Connecticut has one of the highest success rates with laws passed in 2008 and 2009 banning toxic chemicals and site pollution. Of the seventeen bills proposed, three became law.
“These issues affect people's lifestyles,” he said. “No one wants their kids drinking milk from contaminated sippy cups or playing in playgrounds sprayed with pesticides. People understand environmental issues framed in such contexts—and so do politicians.”
So does Connecticut deserve this kind of scrutiny over what it has yet to accomplish in passing environmental law? We’re working hard for a better tomorrow. Haven’t we done enough?
True, Connecticut has come a long way in making a difference for a better environment. But it seems Hanrahan is saying we can’t rest on our laurels and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and go back to business as usual.
We need to keep pushing. We need to keep striving. There is so much more that needs to be done. Because it’s business as usual that got us in trouble in the first place.
Images courtesy of CT EarthNet.