Connecticut Organizations and Residents Receive Prestigious EPA Environmental Award

Jun 28th, 2013 | By | Category: Featured Story

Seven organizations and individuals in Connecticut were honored today at the 2013 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony of the US Environmental Protection Agency. They were among 28 recipients across New England recognized for their significant contributions to environmental awareness and problem-solving.

The merit awards allow EPA to recognize individuals and groups whose work has protected or improved the region’s environment in distinct ways. Given out by EPA annually since 1970, the merit awards honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts.

“The people, communities and businesses being recognized today are leaders in helping create a cleaner environment and healthier communities across New England,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA New England.

The Environmental Merit Awards, which are given to people who have already taken action, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals. The Environmental Merit Award Winners from Connecticut listed by category are:

Local, State or Federal Governmental Environmental Merit Award

Conn. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Hartford, Conn.
K.C. Alexander, Sherill Baldwin, Judy Belaval, Diane Duva, Paula Guerrera, Macky McCleary, Chris Nelson, Joseph Schiavone, Jennifer Weymouth

In 2012 Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection managed the groundbreaking process of transforming the state’s solid waste management system for the 21st century. The staff members receiving this award ushered through a transition that resulted in waste being viewed as a resource rather than something to be disposed of.

“Connecticut was well represented among recipients of US EPA awards today,” said CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Daniel C. Esty. “Several individuals and organizations were honored, which speaks to this state’s strong and ongoing commitment to protecting our environmental natural resources.”

“I am especially proud that DEEP staff received two awards – A Lifetime Award to Tessa Gutowski and a Merit Award to a team of people who have been working to transform the manner in which Connecticut handles solid waste into a 21st century Materials Management System.”

In 2010, Connecticut generated about 2.3 million tons of municipal solid waste or .65 tons per person per year. The state recycles about 30 percent of its waste and most of the remainder is taken to in-state waste-to-energy facilities. Leadership for this effort came from Gov. Dannel Malloy who convened a working group in April on “Modernizing Recycling.” The winners of this award put into action the vision of Commissioner Dan Esty and Deputy Commissioner Macky McCleary who recognized Connecticut’s solid waste management system had become outdated. The award winners together communicated with hundreds of stakeholders, analyzed alternatives, and studied the impacts of changing regulations. Their work led to a report whose recommendations left Connecticut ready to be a leader in materials management. As Terri Goldberg, director of the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association said, “The people receiving this award are responsible for the significant shift in thinking regarding waste management options in Connecticut.”

Environmental, Community, Academia, & Non-profit Organizations Environmental Merit Award

Northwest Conservation District, Torrington, Conn.
The Northwest Conservation District serves 34 communities in Northwest Connecticut. Its main function is to conserve local natural resources through a wide variety of technical services and educational programs. The district focuses on watershed and open space protection, low impact development techniques, sustainable resource and energy use, and promoting ecosystem planning. The organization also offers a variety of Geographic Information Systems based mapping solutions to help towns, organizations, and individuals to plan projects and make decisions.

Among the challenges addressed by the Northwest Conservation District are drinking water and aquifer protection, wetland protection and restoration, aquatic resource protection through low impact development measures, as well as open space and farmland preservation. As one example of the work the organization has done, the Northwest Conservation District teamed up with the Farmington River Watershed Association to help build a rain garden and bioswale at a wastewater treatment plant in Winchester and at Crystal Lake filtration facility. Rain gardens and bioswales are low impact development measures that can reduce runoff and clean water. Volunteers who helped build the bioswale which was converted from a standard rock-lined swale, planted various shrubs, including blueberries and other native species. The plants will now attract more native wildlife at the same time they filter pollutants.

Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, Inc., Kent, Conn.
Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust is one of the leading conservation non-profits in Connecticut, not a small distinction in a state with a wealth of organizations committed to preserving natural landscapes. Founded in 1965 to protect Northwest Connecticut’s vanishing scenic treasures, Weantinoge is now the state’s largest land trust, helping to steward more than 9,000 acres of land worth an estimated $28 million in 17 towns. Their holdings include 14 preserves open to the public and 15 active farms.

The Weantinoge trust has emerged as a statewide leader in the difficult work of making preservation possible in a state with a variety of competing pressures and interests. The trust works with local communities to identify threatened and valuable properties for permanent protection and once acquired, the organization sticks to strict stewardship standards, making sure lands’ natural character is safeguarded. In addition to buying land, Weantinoge works to expand public access to the outdoors and environmental education. Weantinoge has 18 miles of hiking trails available to the public in its nature preserves, and it provides outdoor science programming to 200 schoolchildren a year. Weantinoge represents the best of centuries-old Yankee traditions: working together to save and safeguard the best parts of the places we call home.

Business, Industry, Trade or Professional

The Siemon Company, Watertown, Conn.
Efforts by the Siemon Company to prevent pollution and protect drinking water have put them in a league of their own when it comes to environmental stewardship. In 2012 Siemon achieved carbon negativity through reductions and offsets, but long before it became trendy, this cable manufacturer was leading the way. Among its 2012 projects, Simeon changed its process water loop system from open to closed loop to reduce water use by 5 percent. It reduced electricity consumption by more than 5 percent by changing to a variable frequency drive and using other smart technology. The family-owned company also changed its packaging to use 2000 fewer square feet of cardboard and installed a waste management program that helped achieve zero-landfill status. Employees get incentives to buy fuel efficient cars and recently employee trash cans were removed to reduce the amount thrown away.

In August 2012, Siemon announced its carbon reductions and offsets exceeded its actual global emissions by over 179 percent. Another 16.885 metric tons of carbon output was offset by a combination of efforts by recycling 976.7 metric tons of waste at Siemon sites globally, installing a clean solar energy system and operating a 3,000-acre tree farm in Milton, NH. This land conservation in the headwaters of the Salmon Falls River was key in protecting water quality in the river, which provides drinking water to 47,000 people.

Lifetime Award

Russell L. Brenneman
In 1967 Russell Brenneman wrote the book, “Private Approaches to the Preservation of Open Land,” published by The Conservation and Research Foundation. This book made it easier to put conservation easement regulations into codes that could become laws. Brenneman co-chaired the Conn. League of Conservation Voters, crafted legislation and provided legal counsel for the preservation of many tracts of land. He also teaches environmental law, and has passed his knowledge of and devotion to the environment to the next generation.

Tessa Gutowski
During more than 30 years with the state, Tessa Gutowski has worked on many projects that have benefited residents of Connecticut and the environment. As an employee of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Gutowski developed Connecticut’s Debris Disaster Management Plan, which allowed Connecticut to effectively address the large quantities of debris from storms Irene, Sandy and Charlotte over the last three years. Gutowski made sure the solid waste team understood the plan and was available to help staff put the plan into place during the storms, even sleeping on the floor at work to be available during the events. The value of Gutowski’s plan was evident when New Jersey and New York adopted it as the basis for their response after storm Sandy. Gutowski also developed the state’s Solid Waste Management Plan, which has become the backbone of Connecticut’s waste management efforts and a lasting example for other states.

Gutowski’s attention to quality have kept data up to EPA standards which helps the state get federal grants and assures the integrity of department programs. In 2012, Gutowski transformed the open burning program to reduce the harm done by burning to air quality. Off work, Gutowski has served on her local wetlands commission in Willington, Conn., and volunteered for many No Child Left Inside events. Gutowski is described as “a quiet and steady hero” with “superb knowledge of environmental issues, the innovation necessary to tackle problems effectively … and the collaborative ability to spread her successes.”

Marc J. Taylor, M.D., (posthumous)
Marc Taylor worked on the health of America’s waterways and the ecological systems they are a part of. His focus was Connecticut’s Pomperaug River Watershed. A physician, medical educator, and national leader in water conservation, Taylor was nominated posthumously for his contribution late in his life in co-founding Connecticut’s Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition, an innovative model for local water conservation, as well as for his leadership in pursuing clean, plentiful water for all. Taylor first became concerned about water diversions and other threats to the Pomperaug River in 1999. He mobilized citizens and leaders and co-founded the coalition with three initial goals: to study the watershed and the factors affecting its health; to share findings with the community; and to establish a coalition that could influence policies and conservation practices. With Taylor as chair for nine years, the coalition has done multiple scientific studies that have brought new understanding of the watershed and new policies for river protection. It has also created tools to monitor water and habitat and has brought crucial scientific data to decision-makers while educating and involving residents, organizations, businesses and town officials.

Taylor’s work with the Coalition led him to get involved with other organizations. He was chair of River Network in Portland, Oregon, which supports 2000 grass-roots water organizations across the country; a board member of the Connecticut Rivers Alliance, the Housatonic Valley Association, and the Southbury Land Trust. He nurtured connections between groups. Without fanfare or pay, Taylor was an influential and inspiring leader to those working to safeguard our water.

More information on EPA New England Environmental Merit Awards (

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