Federal Judge Tosses Out Lawsuit Challenging Last-Minute Efficiency Fund Cuts | Connecticut Public Radio

Federal Judge Tosses Out Lawsuit Challenging Last-Minute Efficiency Fund Cuts

Oct 26, 2018

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a legislative raid of money set aside to make homes and businesses more energy efficient. It’s a decision viewed as a setback for environmentalists and energy contractors in the state.

On each bill, electric and natural gas customers pay a small fee. That money is supposed to be set aside for consumer benefit, funding programs like weatherization and home energy audits.

But in 2017, as Connecticut Public Radio reported, cash-strapped lawmakers raided that money at the last minute, ordering tens of millions of dollars transferred to the state’s general fund over the next two years.

It was a move criticized as a hidden tax on utility customers. And one that was widely panned, even by the very same legislators who voted for it.

Shortly afterward, a group of environmentalists and home energy contractors filed a lawsuit.  The plaintiffs argued the funding sweep was a break in contract between the state and utility consumers who were no longer getting what they paid for.

But in a decision released Thursday, a federal judge disagreed, saying the state is not limited in how it spends the energy efficiency money, just how it collects it.

The judge also ruled any “implied” understanding for how the money should be spent only goes so far as the legislature deems fit, under current law.

“Those limitations do not create binding contractual obligations that flow from the State to the plaintiffs,” U.S. District Judge Janet Hall wrote, in her decision. “Instead, they ‘merely declare[ ] a policy to be pursued until the legislature shall ordain otherwise.’”

“While voters can hold their legislators accountable in 11 days, the sad reality is that more than 3,000 jobs have been lost and a number of energy efficiency projects across the state have been halted as a result” of the funding raid, said Stephen Humes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an emailed statement.

“We are seriously considering an appeal,” Humes said.