Report from Montpelier: June 5, 2014

Investments in Vermont environment and infrastructure

In Rep. Kate Webb and Joan Lenes’ last column for the season, they have highlighted a few pieces of legislation passed this year that protect Vermont’s environment and infrastructure.

Capital Investments in our State: The capital bill includes the culmination of a six-year effort to provide a strategy and the necessary tools for the State to reduce its annual energy consumption by 5 percent. Working with the State Treasurer, the Legislature created a “credit facility” that uses cash on hand to finance energy conservation and renewable energy projects. These projects are financed through the savings they achieve, it is expected that over time $8 million of projects will be financed this way. Following the payback period, the current $14 million of energy costs in state government could be reduced by 15 to 20 percent.

Support for Green Up Day: The Legislature values the contributions made through Green Up Day to help beautify and protect our neighborhoods and open spaces. To help ensure a steady revenue sources for this important effort, we created a new income tax return check-off that allows Vermonters to donate directly to Vermont Green Up, Inc. The Green Up check off will appear on next year’s income tax form.

Protecting our forests: Firewood is a known vector for carrying invasive species deadly to forests such as the Emerald Ash Borer. Now present in our neighboring states and Canada, Act 112 passed this year sets the stage for scientifically based regulation of imported firewood.

Lake Champlain Clean Up: Although three House committees developed policy and funding strategies in preparation for the new EPA clean-up plan for Lake Champlain, none of these made it into law.  Expect to see renewed energy on this over the summer and next year.

Shoreland Protection: After a lengthy process, an act protecting the shorelands of Vermont’s lakes and ponds will become law. We are awaiting final confirmation from the Department of Environmental Conservation to attend the June 26th Shelburne Planning Commission at 7pm. Please come and hear about the new standards first hand.

Unprecedented Transportation Investment: This year we passed the largest transportation investment in Vermont history—$665 million for our roads, rail, airports, bike/ped facilities, and bridges. This still falls hundreds of millions short of our need to adequately maintain our transportation infrastructure.

The investments we have made over the past few years are paying off. In 2008 we were 45th in the nation with 19.7 percent of our bridges structurally deficient. We are now 28th with only 8 percent structurally deficient. Our road surfaces have gone from 34 percent in very poor condition to 21 percent in very poor condition over the same period.

Thanks to our changes in gas and diesel taxes last year, as well as aggressive pursuit of federal grants, we have a much-needed record investment in our infrastructure. By moving the Vermont Local Roads Program to the Vermont Transportation Training Center, 80-90K spent in overhead can now be used for to preserve and expand current programming for municipalities.

Recycling: Vermont became a leader in recycling with the passage of Act 148, the Universal Recycling Law. This year we remove two additional waste streams from landfills.

In 2015, contractors will be required to haul certain discarded construction materials to recycling centers. In 2016, consumers will be able to drop off alkaline batteries at solid waste facilities, municipal buildings, and participating retailers. This is a win for the environment and solid waste districts and is promoted by the industry.

Post-Irene Investments: The pouring of footings for the new state office building in Waterbury marks the final stage of commitments made to remain and invest in Waterbury post Irene. The $125 million building project is paid for with FEMA and insurance dollars as well as multiple years of capital dollar allocations. The project preserves the historic character of the State office complex while creating workspaces that break down silos allowing state workers to serve Vermonters in a more productive and cost-effective manner.