By Representatives Kate Webb and Joan Lenes
With another session adjourned, we finally have breathing room to look back while also looking forward. Over the coming weeks, we will provide an update on legislation passed.
First up: the environment. Whether it is phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain or PFOA in Bennington’s groundwater, the legislature continued in its efforts to address gaps in our prevention and response system and allocate resources to protect our waters.
The landmark Clean Water Act of 2015 brought all land use sectors to the table to reduce storm water pollution. The new Clean Water Fund is part of what will make this happen. Farmers, particularly small farms, will find greater access to technical resources and incentives to manage runoff. Accepted Agricultural Practices are morphing to Required Agricultural Practices to help keep nutrients in the soil and out of our water.
Updates to funding mechanisms will help municipalities access state and federal funds to finance drinking water and pollution control projects. Municipalities are beginning to inventory roads and culverts to assess and prioritize those that need to be targeted to better manage storm water. Wastewater treatment operators will be required to notify the public within 1-4 hours of an overflow, and the Vermont Health Department will maintain an internet site and public outreach when toxic algae blooms are present in our lake.
To address groundwater contamination, the legislature created workgroups to evaluate how we identify and regulate toxic chemicals that find their way into our environment. The State will now have clearer authority in gaining information and financial impact in the presence of a real or threatened toxic release. Homeowners wanting to use lakes and ponds for drinking water will see a new set of rules to make sure the source is safe and permissible.
We also responded to a request to protect our pollinators. There is already ample evidence that neonicotinoid-treated seeds, telephone poles, pressure-treated lumber, etc., are partially to blame for the decline of bees nationwide. A new task force will review the science around pollinator decline and propose recommendations for a pollinator protection plan. Our pesticide regulators will be empowered to act when a pesticide is implicated in pollinator decline.
Protection of Critical Habitat and Forest Fragmentation: Vermont is beginning to see a loss and fragmentation of our forestland. In addition to pumping $1.4 billion in our economy each year, our forest provide critical habitat to wildlife, lessen the impact of flooding, recharge aquifers and provide space for spiritual renewal. A bill on the Governor’s desk would shine a light on the importance of our forest resources by adding them to the list of required land use elements in regional plans.
A new law will also protect the right of landowners to conduct forestry operations and help large tracts of family-owned forestland remain intact through succession planning. The legislature also updated the underlying threatened and endangered species act, allowing the State to establish critical habitat for state-listed threatened and endangered species. Vermonters value wildlife and protecting species diversity is integral to maintaining the web of life upon which we all depend.
Next week: Education – and don’t forget! CSSU consolidation vote is June 7th. Early voting is available – please vote!
Over the summer, you can reach Kate and Joan via email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.