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Editorial Something’s in the air, and it’s not good

February 15, 2019

Be honest ...

How fast would you drive if there were no danger of a ticket?

Would you adhere to building compliances if there were no penalties?

Would you think twice about eating in restaurants if they were never inspected?

Would you text while driving if there were no cops on local roads?

A lot of people live recklessly despite the potential of penalties. The same goes for businesses. Restaurants may shrug off a fine resulting from a failed inspection, but express outrage when we publish their shortcomings to potential customers.

So, it makes us uncomfortable to discover the state agency in charge of protecting the air we breathe has apparently been easing up on factories, gas stations and marinas that cough up toxins.

A Hearst Connecticut Media review of inspections over the last eight years points to a 40-percent decrease in inspections by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

It’s not hard to do the math. Budget cuts = fewer jobs. Fewer jobs = fewer inspections.

That doesn’t necessarily mean polluters are taking shortcuts, but consent orders calling for contamination cleanup are also down by 40 percent.

We’ve been hesitant to take a deep breath since former Connecticut DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee referred to the state as the “tailpipe of America” in 2016 in response to studies that the most troubling ozone levels in he Northeast were hovering across Fairfield County.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Ned Lamont sided with DEEP’s response to Hearst’s data, countering that the numbers don’t give a complete picture, that computers are filling in for a depleted workforce.

That picture remains a tad hazy. Reductions in pesticide inspections mean those chemicals you spray into the lawn may not meet state standards.

Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy redirected DEEP’s mission when he took office by adding “Energy” to its name and responsibilities. Lamont’s appointment of Katie Dykes to succeed Klee underscores the state’s needed commitment to reimagine its energy strategy.

But state and federal leaders must take heed to ensure Connecticut protects its air, particularly since it is vulnerable to pollutants from other states at a time when federal regulations are more lax than they have been in generations.

President Donald Trump’s anti-regulations approach has, for example, resulted in a reported 30-year low in criminal prosecutions by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The climate is changing, and being shoved in the wrong direction.

This puts more pressure on states to be environmental watchdogs. Some leaders saw the Hearst report as proof of existing concerns. State Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, a vice chairman of the Legislature’s Environment Committee, said “The reduction in staff has had a negative impact on the environment and what’s really scary is the number (of DEEP employees) retiring in the next four years.”

Connecticut’s Congressional delegation as well as Lamont and state leaders need to work together to fiercely defend our environment.

We won’t breathe any easier until they do.