As many enjoyed the few hours of sunshine accompanying this weekend’s first glimpse of spring, a group of concerned New Haven citizens met to discuss how to put environmental issues at the forefront of Connecticut’s political agenda.

Approximately 35 people met at City Hall on Saturday afternoon to strategize for the March 12 legislative hearing before the Connecticut General Assembly Environment Committee. The meeting, which was organized by the Connecticut branch of Clean Water Action, was attended by concerned citizens as well as representatives of other environmental non-profit organizations and grass-roots groups. The aim of the meeting was to encourage legislation that focuses on improving air quality.

“We’ve been working to introduce legislation into the state House and Senate to set a framework about how we’re going to move forward in the coming years,” Brooke Suter, the Connecticut director of Clean Water Action, said. “The coalition decided this is our opportunity to really influence this and engage to make the recommendations that come out of this as good as possible.”

At a 2001 conference of New England governors and northeastern Canadian premiers, Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland committed the state to stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2010 and eventually decreasing emissions by an additional 75 to 85 percent. A committee of stakeholders representing industry, government, non-profit organizations and academia recommended various potential actions to help the state meet this goal to Rowland’s steering committee in December 2003.

Suter, who led Saturday’s meeting, explained that Clean Water Action wants to maintain the momentum that Rowland’s commitment and the steering committee’s recommendations generated. She said they hope to garner the support necessary to influence state lawmakers.

“We’re going to create the political will here today,” Suter said. “We really want the commitment shown through citizen activity.”

Clean Water Action wants to demonstrate this public support through a large citizen presence at the upcoming Environment Committee hearing. She said the goal was to mobilize as many people as possible, and the attendees split into workgroups that focused on how this could be accomplished.

Jack Dafoe ’04, one of the workgroup leaders and a member of the Yale Climate Campaign, said the meeting informed people about how they can spread awareness of the issue.

“The biggest thing that was accomplished was letting people know the different connections they have and the different ways they can spread this issue,” Dafoe said. “That really showed that just with a little organizing on the part of the people who were there it can make a really huge impact.”

By the end of the meeting, the group had agreed to try to bring 100 people to the hearing, which Roger Smith, a member of Clean Water Action, said would be “huge” and leave the group poised to make air quality one of the leading issues in the upcoming legislative session.

Smith and many of the other attendees said they were pleased with the meeting’s outcome. Suter said she thought a lot of action had been planned at the meeting, and Charles Rothenberger, a legal fellow for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, added that it was good to see so much grass-roots support.

“We wanted people to walk out thinking there are things they can do,” Smith said. “I think this was great — exactly what we wanted to come out with.”

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