Robert Klee, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), visited Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 1 to discuss environmentalism in Connecticut and the efforts of the DEEP. The University Hour event drew a packed Science Building auditorium of students, faculty and Willimantic residents.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was established in the 1970s. “Back then, ‘environmental insults’ were in your face. The Connecticut River was regarded as the most beautiful open sewage system in America,” Klee said. “Energy” was added to the DEP in 2011, hence the “DEEP.” A challenge the DEEP faces is balancing environmental initiatives with energy initiatives — they often clash. “Some want pristine forests and rivers to fish in; others want hydroelectric power plants along rivers.”
“We are a leader in the nation when it comes to financing energy projects,” Klee said, pointing out Connecticut’s “green bank.” “We’re also seeing huge increases in solar power and electric vehicles.”
Climate change is the one topic that cuts across all efforts of the DEEP — energy and environment. He suggested climate change is in part the result of inefficient energy use and is changing the physical environment (rising sea levels and affecting wildlife). “Storms are more frequent and intense than in the past,” he said. “Our infrastructure can’t handle it.” Should a massive power outage occur, Klee mentioned the development of “micro grids” within the larger grid.
Midway through the event, Klee turned to the crowd for questions. Topics brought up included alternative methods of cooling the power plant in Waterbury, such as with air instead of water from Long Island Sound; and the use of pesticides in agricultural and public spaces. Audience members questioned why the DEEP has not focused more on water quality in private wells and environmental causes of cancer.
“Choosing projects and where to allocate our resources, funding and manpower, are challenges my agency faces,” he responded. A motivation of Klee’s is for the DEEP to reduce the bureaucracy and paperwork that take up so much time and resources. “We need to move less paper, and more people and projects.”
A student mentioned how there is a correlation between development and pollution, highlighting how the repaving of roads increases pollution runoff into waterways. “Repaving the roads is necessary,” Klee said. “Another example is the building of the rail system between the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield corridor. It’s a large project that will produce waste, but it’s a big step in mass transit.”
Preceding the University Hour, Klee took a tour of Eastern. “You have an out of the ordinary campus, in a good way,” he said to the crowd, in regard to Eastern’s energy efficient buildings and green initiatives. Last year, approximately $130,000 was saved in by the J. Eugene Smith Library alone, due to more-efficient lighting and HVAC systems. “Money not spent on the lights is money spent on you (the students) and bettering the university,” he concluded.