report from montpelier

By Representatives Joan Lenes and Kate Webb

For our final end-of-session article, we offer a short list of some of the environmental issues addressed this year:

Solar Siting: Following requests from municipalities including Shelburne, the Legislature gave communities greater say in the siting of ground-mounted solar projects. Municipalities and planning commissions will have automatic party status in permit proceedings before the Public Service Board and new language will make it easier for towns to adopt screening requirements and larger setbacks for solar projects.

Water Quality: Our lakes, rivers and ponds are struggling from pollution and efforts over the decades have not kept pace with the impact of stormwater runoff, development, agricultural use, and high water events. Building on work over the last six years, the Legislature brought forward a far-reaching water quality bill, designed in part to meet the new pollution plan for Lake Champlain expected next month. It also extends to all water bodies of the state, from the impaired to pristine. It is designed to be “all in” engaging all land use sectors, from back roads to highways, from agricultural operations to urban areas, from wastewater treatment facilities to logging sites.

A key part of ensuring that we remain accountable for improving our water quality is to fund meaningful efforts to achieve our goal. Agricultural pollution accounts for approximately 40 percent of phosphorus running into Lake Champlain and the largely under-resourced Agency has been unable to adequately regulate over 5,000 small farms. The remaining 60 percent comes primarily from stormwater runoff from developed lands and roads as well as stream bank erosion. Municipalities pointed out that implementing stronger standards could not be done without financial and technical resources. A new fund specifically tied to water quality improvement raises a little over $6 million. The source of those funds can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/oswkpja.

Air Pollution: The House made changes to Vermont’s air pollution statutes this session and the Senate is expected to review and consider this next year. Under present law, sources of air pollution are required to register with the State only if they emit more than five tons of pollutants per year. Going forward, this will apply to smaller sources, ultimately helping the State better track and monitor air pollution across Vermont.

Recycling and Solid Waste: Landfill space in Vermont is limited and one of the two major ones is nearing capacity. A significant portion of items that end up in the landfill are recyclables, food scraps and yard debris, all of which could be diverted out of the waste stream. This summer, key components of the Universal Recycling Law will take effect. Here are a few changes beginning on July 1: 1) recyclables are banned from the landfill; 2) residential trash charges will be based on weight, 3) transfer stations will be required to accept leaf and yard debris 4) food scrap generators of 52 tons/year will need to divert material. 5) Separate recycling containers will be found alongside trash in public buildings other than restrooms.

Carbon Tax: The Legislature began taking testimony on a proposal for a net-neutral carbon pollution tax to see if this effort might reduce carbon emissions while also promoting economic growth in Vermont. Economists predict consumers would modify behavior to consume less carbon-based goods (ie. carpooling) and use that money to buy goods (ie. remodeling a kitchen). When implementing such a tax, British Columbia saw a measurable change in this behavior. If nothing else, their experience suggests a closer look at a carbon pollution tax.

Please feel free to phone or email during the off-session. You can reach Joan at (802) 999-9363 or Jlenes@leg.state.vt.us and Kate at (802) 233-7798 or kwebb@leg.state.vt.us.