Ariela Lopez, Contributing Photographer

Climate advocates testified on the dangers of pesticides and the benefits of electrification at the Board of Alders’ community services and environmental policy committee meeting on Thursday.

At the meeting, the committee held a public hearing to discuss lawn pesticides and artificial turf and heard an update from the New Haven Climate Movement about the city’s progress in implementing the New Haven Community Electrification Resolution, which was passed three years ago and requires the city to develop and adhere to a schedule for replacing several infrastructure systems with electric alternatives. Laura Cahn, the chair of the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee, presented on pesticides and urged the city to rethink its system of licensing officials that use pesticides. New Haven Climate Movement representative Krishna Davis ’25 and Steve Winter, New Haven’s Office of Climate and Sustainability director, testified about electrification.

“The planet is gasping for air, and we are holding a plastic bag around it,” Cahn said, describing the urgency of her environmental work.

Cahn suggests goats, leaf blower regulations to curb pesticide use

Although the Board of Alders previously passed a resolution implementing a “voluntary ban” on lawn chemicals, Cahn testified that many residents still use pesticides on their lawns. Because Connecticut state law prohibits municipalities from actually banning pesticides, the Board’s resolution was largely symbolic.

Cahn pointed to Tweed New Haven Airport as a large user of pesticides because the Federal Aviation Association requires the airport to keep its sidelines clear. Cahn suggested using goats as an alternative to chemicals to keep out invasive plants. The city has previously used goats to clear invasive plant growth in Edgewood Park in 2018 — which Cahn also claims was her idea.

“They did such a good job eating the invasive species, they sent them home early,” Cahn said. “They are a huge visitor draw because they’re lovely goats — you just have to be careful not to let them out where they can eat your flowers.”

Cahn cautioned about the potential for leaf blowers to spread pesticide toxins, especially when pesticides are used near schools or residential areas.

She said that pesticides are commonly used on utility infrastructure like railroads and electric lines, and on golf courses and athletic fields. 

“Golf was invented in Scotland,” Cahn said. “Obviously they didn’t use pesticides in Scotland on their golf courses and so the fact that we’ve adopted their sport and tried to make it work in our territory by using these artificial means is very, very concerning,” Cahn said.

She also claimed that several of the employees she has seen applying pesticides are not licensed by the state to do so. If a company is licensed, Cahn claimed, not every employee will be individually certified.

In that vein, Cahn advocated for the city to make a registry of every licensed lawn care and landscaping company, to keep track of their use of pesticides and make sure that they don’t magnify the risk of the chemicals by using leaf blowers.

“New Haven does not know who is doing these things in our city,” Cahn said. 

Cahn also warned the committee about the danger of artificial turf, which requires pesticides for its maintenance. Artificial turf is used for athletic fields throughout the city.

After Cahn concluded her presentation, Alder Kianna Flores ’25 asked about education campaigns to raise awareness of the danger of pesticides and their continued use. In response, Cahn said that she has not come up with an effective way to educate people, because she believes people do not want to fully comprehend something that is so bad for them.

“I don’t think it’s by accident that nobody knows about this,” Cahn said. “I’m pretty sure it is a dedicated advertising campaign, just like cigarettes, just like alcohol, to get you to do something toxic to yourself.” 

Cahn then provided an update on the EAC’s current work, which includes monitoring initiatives such as a private recycling facility on the water, bird-safe building legislation, Tweed’s expansion, greenspace in public housing developments, garbage from Long Wharf food trucks and the possibility of a statewide ban on nip bottles that contain small quantities of alcohol.

Update from New Haven Climate Movement, electrification goals

Following Cahn’s presentation, Krishna Davis ’25 spoke on behalf of the New Haven Climate Movement’s Electric Future Committee about the city’s progress towards meeting the electrification goals it laid out in its 2021 electrification resolution. 

“We cannot meet our 2030 climate goals without persistent efforts of the city aligned with the commitments made in the electrification resolution in 2021,” Davis said. 

Although he recognized the city’s efforts to electrify some buildings, Davis called for the city to incentivize developers of new buildings in New Haven to only use electric sources of energy and report their carbon emissions to both the city and the public throughout the entire development process. 

According to Davis, the Electric Future Committee has found that only three of nearly 50 new construction projects in New Haven in the last 10 years have been completely electric.

Davis also said that other cities with climate goals similar to New Haven like Ithaca, New York which he said have taken more serious action to increase electrification.

“New Haven should follow Ithaca’s lead and cities like Ithaca, and make electrification a serious policy priority,” he said.

In response to Davis’ requests, Alder Festa reminded the audience that a new electric refuse truck should be arriving in New Haven soon. This new garbage truck will be arriving thanks to a grant that Steve Winter, director of the Office of Climate and Sustainability, applied for. He has since applied for another grant in hopes of securing a second refuse vehicle for New Haven. 

Following Davis’ presentation, Winter discussed the progress the city has made since passing the electrification resolution nearly three years ago.

For one, the city has worked to electrify its light fleet, purchasing seven Chevrolet Volts for city officials to use. According to Winter, New Haven will receive a $7,500 check directly from the federal government for each Volt they purchased. He also said that for every heavy-duty vehicle the city purchases, such as refuse vehicles, the federal government would write New Haven a check for 30 percent of the cost, with a cap of $40,000 per vehicle. 

The Office of Climate and Sustainability has also been working with The City Plan Department to write zoning language that incentivizes developments to be constructed completely electrically. He discussed a point system that will grant developers density bonuses for their projects.

“You can get five points if it’s all-electric, five points if it’s mass timber, and if you’ve got something that has solar, timber and all-electric, as well, you can get 12 points,” he said, regarding the point system. “And the 12 points are important thresholds where you get a density bonus.”

Winter also discussed his progress in outfitting buildings with heat pumps to replace gas heating systems. So far, the Office of Climate and Sustainability has worked on retrofitting community centers, youth recreation centers and senior centers with heat pumps. 

Alder Festa is the chair of the CSEP committee.

Ariela Lopez covers City Hall and City Politics. Originally from New York City, she is a first-year in Branford College.
Lily Belle Poling covers climate and the environment. Originally from Montgomery, Alabama, she is a first year in Branford College majoring in Global Affairs and English.