By Wayne Jebian
With La Plaza del Mercado, a Latino shopping plaza on Hartford’s Park Street as his backdrop, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled the final version of the state’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy. Malloy asserted that by working with the state’s energy efficiency initiatives, the Plaza’s owners could expect to save $18,000 per year on their energy bills. The push is indicative of the changing trend of businesses embracing environmental responsibility.
“Here we happen to be talking about lighting and refrigeration and air conditioning,” Malloy said, “and to think that with relatively little expenditure, achieving a savings of $18,000 per year is just amazing. It means additional hiring is a possibility, additional reinvestment is a possibility, additional locations is a possibility because we are freeing up that kind of capital on a long range basis.”
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty also announced inside the market the launch of a website, energizect.com, for home and business owners looking to take advantage of incentives to switch to clean energy sources and increase efficiency. In addition, he announced the formation of an office of small and minority businesses within DEEP, focused on “groups that have often been overlooked in the push for clean energy in the past,” he said. The new office is called the Office of Energy Efficient Businesses.
Energy and the environment have undergone an evolution of sorts in recent political history. Not long ago, politicians pitted the business community and environmentalists against each other in election speeches. As recently as last year’s presidential elections it was commonplace to hear lawmakers saying things like Obama’s energy strategy would “hamper job creators and handcuff America’s energy producers,” as Rep. Steve Pearce R-New Mexico, put it.
At Hartford’s La Plaza del Mercado, CTLatinoNews.com asked Governor Malloy how he would respond if someone tried to resurrect the business-vs-environment argument. Malloy answered in dollars and cents: “Earlier today, we did an event at an ice cream producer that is saving $8000 per year. Their initial, one-time cost was $3500. These kinds of stories are real, and if we could multiply them by tens of thousands, and that certainly is well within our reach to do, we are talking about making Connecticut substantially more competitive.”
State Sen. Art Linares (R-Westbrook), elected this past November at the age of 24, is a Green Republican who wants to see more collaboration on business and environmental issues. Co-founder of a solar energy business, he has no reservations about calling for increased government support. “I think that it is something that the state should be, and is, looking into,” he said. “It’s a growing industry. It’s creating thousands of jobs for people in this state.”
Linares embraces the belief that a legislator can be both pro-business and pro-environment. “I think that there are great opportunities for business people and environmentalists to work together,” he said. “An excellent area for that is in green energy sources, like solar, like wind. These are sources of energy that I believe, over time, the price of that energy will go down.”
Dennis Schain, communications director at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), thinks that the opposition between business and the environment has always been more political talking point than reality. “If it was ever true, it’s a relic of a bygone era. Most businesses realize that a sound approach to environmental issues and their energy needs … both of these together help reduce costs and make them a better business.”
It was the inter-relatedness of energy and environmental issues that spurred the creation of DEEP, the result of a consolidation of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), energy specialists from the Office of Policy and Management, and utility regulators.
State lawmakers report that DEEP has made real strides in being more responsive to the needs of business outside the realm of energy policy, such as speeding up the process of issuing permits. “They’ve done a really good job at shortening the time frames for regulatory reviews within the department, and, again, with a business-friendly kind of approach to what they do in terms of reviewing things,” said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.
State Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford), Chair of the legislature’s Environment Committee, confirmed that attempts to speed things up are underway, “Commissioner Dan Esty has been very cooperative with us on this, and he has a goal of bringing down the permitting process from three years to three months.”
“With the focus on jobs and the economy, a lot of legislators are searching for new ideas on how to lower the regulatory burden, and that doesn’t necessarily mean [lowering] environmental standards, but it means faster, more sensible approaches to regulation,” said Eric Brown, a specialist on energy and the environment for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.