Another Chance to Protect Connecticut’s Street Trees

Over the last several months, Connecticut’s utility companies and the Public Utility Regulatory Authority have been going back-and-forth on a tree-trimming plan around power lines.

(Background can be found here). Last week, PURA issued a draft of the decision that will probably be their final word on the issue.

Connecticut Fund for the Environment has worked to ensure that the final regulations adequately protect the street trees that provide shade, raise property values, clean the air, and improve neighborhoods in towns and cities across Connecticut. Overall, PURA’s most recent draft decision does not offer the protections we think Connecticut’s citizens are looking for.

Most harmfully, the decision is inconsistent on the utilities’ authority to prune and remove trees, and when and where trees may be selected. This spring, the state legislature passed a bill (currently awaiting the governor’s signature) that says

“a utility may perform vegetation management within the UPZ [an eight-foot zone on either side of the utility lines], as necessary, to secure the reliability of utility services. Vegetation management means the retention of trees and shrubs that are compatible with the utility infrastructure and the pruning or removal of trees, shrubs, or other vegetation that pose a risk to the reliability of the utility infrastructure” (p. 16).

Essentially, it says that the utility can perform enhanced tree trimming but only if necessary. The PURA decision later instructs that the utilities “shall” clear this zone of all tall-growing vegetation, making it instead a requirement. PURA failed to indicate in their decision that the authority of the utilities to remove trees is limited to when it is necessary.

The new decision does have some positives, however. PURA will meet with Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Forestry unit, and keep DEEP Forestry involved in the process moving forward.

The most helpful part of PURA’s newest decision is the requirement that low-growing trees must remain untouched, rather than allowing blanket removal. Species that won’t grow tall enough to reach the power lines must remain underneath, providing character and value to our neighborhoods, cleaning our air, and sheltering wildlife. Additionally, tall-growing tree species that haven’t yet reached ten feet below the power line must remain. This one aspect of the draft decision begins to pave the way toward the more balanced tree-trimming policy we have advocated for.

Want to help make this vision a reality? We have until Friday, June 6 to submit comments to PURA about the draft decision. Please send your comments to Pura.executivesecretary@ct.gov and put “Comment to PURA Docket No. 12-01-10” in the subject line.

Thank you for taking action—hundreds of people across Connecticut have already joined in to support our trees, and your voice can join this chorus to demand a balanced plan that keeps the lights on, our air clean, and our streets shady and beautiful.

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