HARTFORD -- The General Assembly's Environment Committee headed off a revolt Friday among a group of members who believe the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is neglecting its duty to the state's natural resources.
Led by Rep. Bryan Hurlburt, D-Tolland, the group proposed an amendment that would have stripped the DEEP's conservation functions -- including oversight of forests, parks, wildlife and hunting licenses -- and transferred them to the state Department of Agriculture.
He said that in the last two year's the DEEP has cut $160,000 for a study of the state's pheasant population and $100,000 from its lobster program.
"There's a great opportunity to strengthen conservation functions of the state," Hurlburt said. Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton, agreed, noting that in his lifetime many marine species have vanished from Long Island Sound and lobsters are at historic lows.
"I feel that a lot of these things are going begging," Moukawsher said. "If we transfer the license fees to another agency, maybe they'll be appreciated more."
When Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, joined in support of the bill, it showed bipartisan momentum. "I've been frustrated at times by what I've seen has happened to this side of the agency," he said.
"It would not make sense to split them off," added Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, co-chairman of the committee. "They should be under the jurisdiction of a single agency."
Miner, who like Hurlburt is a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, asked Meyer and Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, the other chairman of the joint committee, to pursue a compromise bill that would study the feasibility of moving conservation duties from the DEEP.
The bill was briefly tabled on the committee's deadline day for action, while Hurlburt and Miner conferred with Appropriations Committee leaders and a representative of the Malloy administration.
A half-hour later the compromise easily passed, with the votes of Meyer and Roy. If it is accepted by the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor, it would create a task force appointed by legislative leaders to come up with recommendations.
"This is not the first time the issue has come up," Miner said.
Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, agreed, recalling that former Sen. George L. Gunther, a Stratford Republican, pushed for similar legislation decades ago. Last year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy succeeded in getting passage of a measure to add the state's energy and utility functions to the former Department of Environmental Protection.