Environmental group ranks legislators
With some environmental gains made last legislative session, even as the state tried to close a $3.7 billion deficit, some state legislators have been more willing to abandon environment protection measures in order to protect jobs, according to the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters' annual scorecard.
"It is quite stunning how quickly legislators were willing to accept the false 'jobs versus the environment' argument," said the report released in November. "... some of our longtime legislative champions found themselves under attack and many caved on crucial votes."
The league releases its environmental scorecard as a guide for voters to learn how their elected officials voted on air, water and open space issues. It ranked every General Assembly member based on how they voted on what the league identified as 12 key environmental bills in the 2011 session, including acts to ban bisphenol-A in store receipts and creating a property tax program to benefit conservation land.
Some local legislators, such as state Rep. Chris Lyddy, D-Newtown, passed with a 100-percent positive rating. But others, like state Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, received just a 40 percent rating because he cast six unfavorable votes, according to CLCV standards.
State Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, said he voted against some environmental measures because they left small businesses to incur the costs. He received a 33 percent rating, the lowest score of all legislators.
Smith voted against a bill requiring retailers to stop using receipts containing bisphenol-A, or BPA, a compound that has been linked with certain cancers, reproductive disorders and diabetes; the bill passed.
"It seemed like a bad time to me," Smith said. "I'm more concerned about businesses staying in business, rather than having them try to comply with a mandate. There was never any proof given that this is in fact a real danger. I think it needs to be looked at a little more."
But state Senate minority leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who got a perfect score, said he received similar pushback years ago when he called for banning BPA in baby bottles and formula. The measure passed, and businesses have not suffered, he said.
"Some businesses were worried they'd have to buy new cash registers, but you can buy BPA-free paper that fits into the old ones," McKinney said. "It's an example of where you can do the right thing and it doesn't have to have a negative impact."
State Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, scored only 38 percent, but said he does not pay attention to CLCV's ratings because, "it's very misleading." Even McKinney agreed that arguments could be made against how the organization compiles its scoring.
Jobs and protecting the environment do not have to be mutually exclusive, but there needs to be a balance, Camillo said. The league advocated against a bill it said would have weakened the state permitting process for new development. Camillo supported the bill because it required the state to approve or deny a building permit within an established time limit. The suggested limit on the table was 90 days.
"I spoke with green builders who wanted it," Camillo said. "These are people who do the right thing. You don't want to be too pro-business. But we've gone too far the other way. When you have people waiting a couple years for permits, something is terribly wrong."
CLCV Executive Director Lori Brown said there were some environmental champions that emerged in the last session.
"Actually the speaker of the house (Chris Donavan, D-Meriden), was quite good this year in ensuring that certain bills came to the floor," Brown said. "He gave a fair shot to some key issues. Also Martin Looney (D-New Haven), was helpful in stopping some of the more heinous efforts to roll back environmental laws."
The league identified legislation it will lobby for in the upcoming session, including a bill to ban or limit use of certain pesticides. State Sen Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who scored at 71 percent, said while jobs will be the main focus, he will continue to advocate for a ban on a type of flame retardant that has been shown to reduce fertility.
State Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, who got a rating of 40 percent, said he will do anything to protect the outdoors. But given the state's fiscal crises, he does not think he will be championing any of the bills the CLCV identified as priorities for the next session.
Frantz voted for a bill that would have mandated ATV trails in state parks, a move the CLCV graded him lower for. But Frantz said ATV riders, if not given their own space, pose a hazard to hikers and horseback riders who use the established trails.
Contact Vinti Singh at email@example.com or 203-330-6285. Follow @VintiSingh.