By Reps. Jessica Brumstead and Kate Webb
Our last article provides an update on some of the environmental actions this year. Up first: federal influence.
President Trump’s recent refusal to remain in the Paris agreement sparked outrage from Sens. Leahy and Sanders and Rep. Welch. In Vermont, Gov. Scott’s announcement that he would join the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance brought a moment of accord with House and Senate Democrats. In doing so, Gov. Scott has declared that Vermont will uphold the Paris agreement within our borders. Legislators are currently drafting a resolution to this effect.
The change from the Obama to the Trump administration brings with it great uncertainty about federal support for some of our landmark environmental gains. Scott Pruitt, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has vowed to slash climate and water pollution regulation. This would include the Clean Water Act upon which the Lake Champlain plan is based.
From 2010 to the present, the EPA was an instrumental and supportive partner in developing a new comprehensive plan to reduce pollution entering Lake Champlain. Add to that Stephen Perkins, the regional EPA director who was a collaborative partner in designing the clean up plan, retires this year.
With this in mind, the Legislature was cautious in its funding expectations and policy initiatives. Nonetheless, several accomplishments did reach the governor’s desk.
Lake Champlain: The Legislature updated two funding sources for water quality improvements in Lake Champlain. For the next two years, the capital bill allocates $45 million for infrastructure projects, the bulk of which will go to municipalities.
Clean Water Fund: The Clean Water Fund, primarily supported by a surcharge to the property transfer tax, also underwent review. With this tax source set to expire this year, the House spent considerable time investigating the use of fees associated with land use practices such as a per-parcel, per-acre, or per-impervious surface fee. These appeared to need more time for development.
Although a possible temporary occupancy fee and a car registration fee were considered, these were ultimately rejected. The final bill extends the property transfer tax until a working group can recommend a more permanent solution. Although some advocates were dismayed to see part of this fee going to affordable housing, the final bill created an addition of about $40 million in funding for cleaning up the waters of the state while making critical investments in affordable housing.
PFOA: The discovery of the chemical PFOA in Bennington County last year highlighted shortcomings in the state regulatory oversight of drinking water. In response, a law was passed and signed by the governor declaring that any entity that releases PFOA into the environment is “strictly, jointly and severally liable” for all costs associated with that public water system and any contaminated wells.
Shelburne also has a PFOA site from the former Harbour Industries. Fortunately, testing of nearby wells have not indicated contamination.
Invasive species: From milfoil to zebra mussels, aquatic nuisance species degrade lake quality, pose health risks, and reduce enjoyment of the lake, harming businesses and property values. Many species attach to the hulls and motors of our boats, and boaters unwittingly carry these freeloaders from lake to lake, spawning new generations of degradation. Lake associations around the state are asking for help.
Vermont’s regulatory restrictions needed an update. Similar to surrounding states, S.75 prohibits the transport of additional invasive species to or from state waters. If signed, boat operators will be required to inspect their vessels for aquatic nuisance species when leaving or entering a new waterway. It requires boat washing at stations operated by lake associations and towns, and gives the state additional enforcement tools. Additional details may be found at: tinyurl.com/y9rrzwex.
Kathryn Webb, a Democrat, represents part of Shelburne in the Vermont House of Representatives; Jessica Brumsted, a Democrat, represents part of Shelburne plus the town of St. George. You may reach Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-233-7798 and Brumsted at email@example.com or 802-233-2120.