CT’s Climate Change Adaptation Resource Toolkit

Did you know that there is a large depository of information about how climate change will affect CT and what can be done about it?

Known as the Connecticut Adaptation Resource Toolkit (CART), this resource was developed by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA (ICLEI USA), with funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Ready Estuaries program through the Long Island Sound Study.

The resource has links to information from such government agencies and nonprofits as the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), the Georgetown Climate Center, the Nature Conservancy, the Union of Concerned Scientists Northeast, the National Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the CT Department of Agriculture, and the Center for Disease Control. There are sections on agriculture, built environment and infrastructure, education, natural resources and ecological habitats, public health and safety, and adaptation planning.

As the toolkit says, this information is useful for local government staff and committee members and, most important to this blog, for “active participants in Connecticut.”

The Five Connecticuts: A New Report

A new report from the CT Association for Human Services, entitled “Race Equity in the Five Connecticuts: A Kids Count Special Report,” by Emmanuel Adero and Sheryl Horowitz, shows the levels of inequality in the various types of CT municipality:  the wealthy, the rural, the suburban, the urban periphery, and the urban core.

Although CT continues to do well overall in the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation’s National Kids Count Data Book, and minorities here do better than those in most other states, this report shows the various kinds of inequality that persist, and how the level of inequality depends on the type of area in which children grow up.

It’s Senior Corps Week

This week is Senior Corps Week. Senior Corps is a federal government program that includes a Foster Grandparents program (with a focus on literacy and mentoring children), a Senior Companions program (which helps seniors stay in their homes), and an RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer) program (which works on some of the following):

  • Organizing neighborhood watch programs
  • Tutoring and mentoring disadvantaged or disabled youth
  • Renovating homes
  • Teaching English to immigrants
  • Assisting victims of natural disasters

Connecticut is not one of the more active Senior Corps states. But there are 2,000 Senior Corps volunteers who tutor 1,100 children, help 200 homebound seniors, and provide volunteer labor for 200 local organizations. The RSVP program could allow seniors to get federal support for progressive community programs.

Seniors have time to make a difference for disadvantaged children and their families, and to provide professional and other services to the nonprofits in CT that are understaffed.

The State Budget

Progressives can make a real difference with respect to the Connecticut state budget, because everything is up for grabs right now, and no one is particularly happy with the budget put forth by Gov. Malloy. We can lobby our representatives and organize protests, petitions, resolutions by local party committees and other organization, and testimony on both sides of the budget, revenues and expenditures. It’s going to be a long fight, well into the summer, so now is the time to start understanding the issues, setting priorities, and organizing.

However, the issues are many and they are complicated. And sometimes it’s not clear where progressives should stand, especially in areas that affect government employee unions.

The best place to start is by insisting that an austerity budget (expenditure cuts) is neither good nor appropriate for Connecticut. Part of making this argument is criticizing and replacing the effective Republican narrative that Connecticut is an economic mess, that people and businesses are leaving (GE, the example most often given, didn’t leave; Boston paid it to build a new headquarters there) because taxes are too high (the top 5% of CT taxpayers pay a lower effective tax rate than the other 95%; see page 4 of CT Voices for Children’s Revenue Options brief; in addition, according to a Dec. 2016 report by Ernst & Young LLP, CT had America’s lowest total effective business tax rate (TEBTR), an absolute measure that captures business tax rates as a share of the overall economy).

Despite what the Republicans say, Connecticut’s economy is not in terrible shape (see an April 2017 report from three Central CT State Univ. professors, commissioned by the AFL-CIO, which tells a very different story about the state’s economy and taxes). What is terrible is the inequality of our educational and health systems, as well as our regressive taxes, including sales and property taxes and fees; even our progressive income tax isn’t progressive at the highest income levels.

A progressive narrative is that Connecticut has many advantages to offset its being expensive (that’s a Northeastern problem, not a specifically CT problem), and that we can afford to be fair, in both taxes and spending, rather than unnecessarily thrifty.

CT Voices for Children calls for a balanced budget approach (see its Revenue Options brief). On the revenue side, this means the following increases:  (1) modernizing the sales tax by applying it to services and more online transactions (by far the largest tax increase it recommends, it is less regressive than the sales tax on goods, because poor people don’t buy many services); (2) strengthening the corporate income tax, especially by getting rid of tax breaks; (3) reforming wealth and income taxes by increasing income tax for top earners (to make their effective tax rate closer to the average CT resident), increasing the tax rate on dividends and capital gains, and entering a joint regional compact to close the carried interest loophole, and (4) supporting a low-wage fee on employers and a tax on sweetened beverages (although this latter tax would be seriously regressive; it’s about personal health not economic health).

The Malloy budget proposal would put 40% of the burden of revenue increases on the poor and middle class. The largest burden on the middle class would be the elimination of the property tax credit on state income tax returns. The largest burden on the poor would be the reduction in the state Earned Income Tax Credit, an important credit for the working poor. An increase in the cigarette tax would affect both groups.

Gov. Malloy (but not the Democrats in the legislature) wants to make municipalities pay for 1/3 of the amount going into the teachers’ pension funds. An important argument for this is that school districts bargain for the salaries that pensions are based on, but don’t have to pay for the pensions. This situation creates an inappropriate incentive. On the other hand, municipalities are dependent on regressive property taxes and have trouble raising their mill rates. One solution is to let municipalities have a small add-on to sales tax, but this is also a regressive tax. Another alternative is CT Voices for Children’s proposed statewide property tax system to ensure a more fair and stable tax base for education.

With respect to expenditures, proposed cuts across agencies seems fair at first glance, but the burden once again falls more on the poor (and on state employees) than on others.

For some good maps and graphs concerning the CT budget, see this CT Voices page. For those who like to read in-depth analyses, check out the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ Feb. 2016 Tax Expenditure Report.

Listen Today to Some Progressive Ideas About the State Budget

The Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) is hosting a progressive conference call conversation about the CT state budget today (Friday, April 21) at 2 pm. The presenters are:

Betty Gallo, Gallo & Robinson
Ann Pratt, CCAG

Click here for details. You can also send your own thoughts on a form that appears on this page.

CT’s Annual Environmental Report Is Out Today

The CT Council on Environmental Quality’s annual report on environmental conditions came out today. The summary paints a mostly negative picture. While the state has continued to clean up the Sound, and “many municipalities are innovating and working hard to reduce runoff, reduce petroleum consumption, recycle garbage, and improve and preserve habitats,” there are three big problems that stand in the way of further progress.

One is the climate, that is, more heat and more extremes of drought and rain. “Heat is a problem because it leads to the production of ground-level ozone, the most injurious of Connecticut’s remaining air pollution problems. Heat also warms watercourses and Long Island Sound. Oxygen conditions in the deep Sound were nearly the worst they had been in the last ten years.” And heavy rains “wash uncounted tons of pollution into streams and rivers.”

This runoff is exacerbated by a second problem, our roads and parking lots. “The task of reducing runoff from already-developed areas, while doable (and to some extent required in most municipalities), requires decades. Lawns can be transformed into environmentally-helpful features more quickly, but widespread change is not evident.” There is a Stormwater Education Kit that contains a great deal of information on improving one’s lawn. Click here for a short summary of EPA stormwater recommendations, and here for ideas for improving a sloped lawn.

The third big problem is “lack of investment in land conservation and management. ‘Investment’ does not mean money only, as there is no effective strategy in place to effectively spend (a hypothetical) windfall. … The small size of the average parcel of land in Connecticut renders current conservation strategies unrealistic. Connecticut will adopt new approaches or fail to reach its conservation goals.”

Then there is a fourth problem:  the Trump administration and the states to our south and west. Less energy efficiency and more fuel combustion in these states “would lead to the types of air pollution that generally blow toward Connecticut.” And a cut in federal grants, which “have been used very effectively by this state to improve Long Island Sound, protect forests and farmland, put economic life back into contaminated properties and restore wildlife habitats along coves and rivers,” could be harmful to the future of the state’s environment.

The Progress and Problems section of the summary ends very sadly:

The potential for retreat is an unusual and regrettable reality. The Council always focuses attention on the steps that are necessary for conditions to improve; this year, it must conclude that gains already made are now in peril.

Things don’t look good right now, but there are a lot of things each of us in our homes, and all of us working together through the state’s many environmental organizations and through our municipal and state governments, can do to limit environment backsliding and continue to improve our land and water conservation practices, and limit the amount we pollute air and water and add carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

 

New Haven Climate Movement’s To Do List (For Us)

At the hearing this week on the New Haven Climate and Sustainability Framework (see March 20 post), I talked with Jeremy Shulik, a member of the New Haven Climate Movement, which was greatly responsible for getting the Framework process going.

Jeremy was handing out a flier that focuses on a few things each of us can do to make a difference with respect to climate change. Some are commonly known, such as insulation and solar panels. But others are not, such as simply consuming less, because “most of the carbon footprint is in the manufacturing.”

When it comes to food, the flier reminds us that livestock (mostly cattle) are responsible for 15% of climate-warming emissions, more than all transportation combined.

One thing that made me especially happy was the recommendation that, since large banks tend to support fossil fuel projects by, for example, lending money for pipeline construction, you can make a difference by moving your account from a large bank to a credit union (which are cooperatives) or a community bank such as Start Community Bank in New Haven (which is a Community Development Financial Institution). This also keeps your money in the area. The flier also notes that cities, universities, businesses, and even countries (such as Ireland) are divesting from fossil fuel companies (and there is a push to get Yale and the City of New Haven to do this). But we can all do our little part, even if we don’t play the stock market.

Last but far from least, we can switch our electricity supplier to one that provides 100% renewable energy. The options have recently increased, and some are even less expensive than regular UI or Eversource service (see the Energize CT site to learn how to make the switch, the options one has, and the cost of each option).

But don’t think that wind and solar energy is suddenly going to flow into your house or apartment. Instead, these companies are purchasing renewable energy credits from other New England and Northeast states that are ahead of us in producing renewable energy. It’s not that Connecticut produces none of it; it’s that what we produce (about half of all energy produced in the state) comes from the Millstone Nuclear Facility in Waterford. And nearly all the solar energy produced in the state is private, that is, on top of houses and businesses.

The New Haven Climate Movement is also interested in public art projects to promote climate change awareness. One that caught my eye is to draw a chalk line where it is expected that the water will rise to in New Haven at some point in the future. Check out this map that shows this line in 2100 with two scenarios:  3.6 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit increases. This sort of public action could go a long way to raise consciousness in the area.

The Climate Movement’s goal is to get New Haven to become a 100% renewable energy city, like Burlington, VT. It would even be better if the entire area could reach for this goal, but that would require a great deal more work in the more conservative towns and cities of Greater New Haven.