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Acknowledging sea level rise, Connecticut legislature passes sweeping climate change bill

The bill would reign in coastal development and establish new pollution targets.

Protective berms are viewed on Compo Beach as the first signs of Hurricane Sandy approach on October 28, 2012 in Westport, Connecticut. CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Protective berms are viewed on Compo Beach as the first signs of Hurricane Sandy approach on October 28, 2012 in Westport, Connecticut. CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Connecticut Senate passed a sweeping climate change bill Wednesday, in a move that could push the state ahead of much of the coastal United States. The legislation centers on adapting to accommodate rising sea levels as well as setting new pollution targets.

Senate Bill 7, “An Act Concerning Climate Change Planning and Resiliency,” passed overwhelmingly early Wednesday morning. In a 34-2 vote, the state senate agreed to adopt recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas by 45 percent below 2001 levels within the next 12 years, the Connecticut Post reported Wednesday morning.

Assuming a sea level rise of nearly two feet by 2050 based on projections by the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation, the bill also updates pre-existing statutory references guiding building and development.

The legislation would require all federally-funded development projects or similar endeavors funded or undertaken by a state agency to adhere to the new restrictions. Meaning these new projects will have to take sea level rise into account when being built.

“Climate change is real, it’s man-made, and it’s here,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) following the vote.

Environmental advocates and organizations cheered the bill’s passage. In a statement sent to ThinkProgress and other publications, the Nature Conservancy Connecticut Chapter’s director of government relations, David Sutherland, emphasized the importance of accounting for sea level rise in particular.

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“Tide gauge records from the last several decades in Long Island Sound show that not only is sea level rising, but the rate at which it is rising is increasingly alarmingly,” said Sutherland. “These rising waters not only increase the frequency of ‘routine’ flooding, but also give storm surges a higher platform from which to attack our neighborhoods.”

“Good planning, based on scientific data, as called for in this legislation, can help communities reduce the damage from coastal flooding,” he continued.

The bill now heads to the Connecticut House for further consideration. House representatives were set to vote on the legislation as of Wednesday afternoon.

Climate change legislation on a state-wide level has seen growing popularity across the United States as the Trump administration has been working to unravel Obama-era environmental initiatives. Two weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, for example, the president signed an executive order rolling back flood risk assessment standards. The administration’s push to undo protections has spurred a number of states and cities to implement their own policies mitigating and accounting for the impact of global warming.

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Washington State and Oregon have been particularly active in their efforts to promote climate resilient practices and policies. But Connecticut’s bill is somewhat unique on the East Coast, particularly with regard to sea level rise. Much of the region is coastal, something that hasn’t factored overwhelmingly into policy and legislative decisions, despite increasing signals that property prices, for example, are increasingly impacted by threat of sea level rise, storms, and flooding.

New York adopted a law in 2017 requiring the state Department of Environmental Conservation to acknowledge and adopt official sea level rise projections in an effort to protect and fortify coastal communities. That law does not impose substantive restrictions, however. In South Florida, activists and local publications have also called upon lawmakers to address the threat sea level rise poses to the area.

Louisiana, another Southern state, has opted for a slightly different approach. Rising waters in the Gulf of Mexico are quickly rendering parts of the state uninhabitable. According to a U.S. Geological Society study, that state is losing wetlands at the rate of a football field every hour and a half.

Louisiana has drafted a plan, obtained by Bloomberg in December, that would move thousands of people away from directly threatened areas. According to the draft, the state would buy out many current homeowners and tax those unwilling to abandon the area. That approach is unpopular with residents and the state has not indicated how such efforts would be funded.

Connecticut’s plan, in comparison, takes a slightly less aggressive approach, both to sea level rise and climate targets more broadly. Co-chair of the Senate Environment Committee Ted Kennedy Jr. (D-Branford) criticized the legislation as a “reduced” bill, noting that it will keep the state on track to meet benchmarks but that it does not dramatically accelerate those efforts, the Connecticut Post reported.

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Kennedy also noted that it will not require private development companies to account for sea level rise, or effect local zoning. But the senator did hail the bill as a step forward regardless.

“This bill will help to better equip our state and coastal municipalities in planning for and mitigating the impacts of sea level rise by requiring current sea level rise models to be incorporated into our state’s plans of conservation and development, our Civil Preparedness Plan and hazard mitigation plans,” he said.

Local environmental organizations have indicated they feel optimistic about the bill’s chances of passing the House and heading to the governor’s desk for approval. Laura McMillan, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment’s communications director, told ThinkProgress via email that “many of the [state] legislature’s best climate champions are representatives” and that support for the legislation appears to be broad. If the bill is approved by the governor it would then officially become law.


UPDATE: The Connecticut House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill by a margin of 137 to 11 on Wednesday evening. The legislation heads now to Gov. Malloy, who is expected to give the bill his signature.