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DEEP seeks to clean up regulations for cleaning up properties

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The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has focused the last several months on improving its regulatory environment, Commissioner Katie Dykes emphasized Tuesday.

She was the featured speaker in a virtual business breakfast the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut hosted.

Dykes talked about the bill Gov. Ned Lamont signed earlier this month that sunsets the Connecticut Property Transfer Act, which tied the cleanup of contaminated properties to their sale.

"We've heard from a lot of commercial real estate agents and people in that sector that it slows down transactions," she said. The state will move forward with regulations to implement what 48 other states have: a release-based system, meaning cleanups happen as the contamination happens.

Dykes said it will take a while to get those regulations in place but she's committed to doing it in a collaborative way, and that in early November, DEEP will announce the process for a working group to develop the regulations.

"I am extremely thankful that the DEEP and the state have made these changes. It's going to be a great switch from the transfer-based approach to the release-based approach," said John Bashaw, an attorney working with clients considering brownfield sales. He asked if companies in the Transfer Act program will be allowed to transition into the release-based program.

Dykes said she wants to make sure discussions in the working group are accessible to property owners, the public and business groups, so DEEP can hear what they think works best. She said proposed changes to the Remediation Standard Regulations and Environmental Use Restriction Regulations, currently moving through the review committee, will provide more clarity and flexibility.

For example, a site intended for industrial use won't need to be cleaned up to the same level as one to be used for a day care facility, she said, "provided there's enough transparency around that intended use and the contamination that exists on the property."

Dykes also spoke about the investigation into Eversource's response to Tropical Storm Isaias over the summer, and the confluence of the storm response with rate increases.

She noted that the utility has historically been compensated based on a rate of return associated with capital investments, which "made sense five, six decades ago, when we were trying to get the utilities to go out and build infrastructure."

But now, the need is to provide faster response times and communication, Dykes said, and she noted the recently passed Take Back Our Grid Act shifts to a performance-based regulation.

Dykes also said that during the pandemic, DEEP has worked with industry to allow more flexibility on renewals or payment fees, and that the department has been working to digitize more documents, though COVID-19 presents a challenge to staff coming into the building to scan.

Dykes said the pandemic "caused us to sharpen our focus even further on things we could do at DEEP to provide for a more streamlined or effective regulatory program that could actually be a spur for economic development in the state, at a time that we desperately need it."

She also said a silver lining of the pandemic is that it has strengthened ties between DEEP and outdoor recreation businesses.

e.moser@theday.com

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