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Vermont House Gives Preliminary Approval To Water Quality Bill

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WAMC/Pat Bradley
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The Vermont House gave preliminary approval Wednesday evening to a measure designed to clean up pollution in all of the state’s waterways.

House Bill 35 was on the floor for its second reading Wednesday — generally considered to be indicative of the fate of the bill. The water quality bill includes multiple provisions intended to remediate and preserve waterways, authorize measures to meet phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load targets for Lake Champlain and craft funding mechanisms.
In reviewing the bill for fellow legislators, lead sponsor Democrat David Deen, who also chairs the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, emphasized that the proposal protects all state waters.   "H-35 is not just about Lake Champlain. It is about the impaired segments of the Battenkill, Lake Carmi, the Connecticut River, the Rock River, Ticklenaked Pond, Lake Memphremagog and 81 other state waters or segments of waters that are impaired and require cleanup plans. H35 is about preventing any more of Vermont’s waters becoming impaired in the first place."

Initiatives in the bill would be paid by slightly raising Vermont's property transfer tax and imposing fees on some polluters. After rejecting several attempts to amend the bill, House members approved the measure 126 to 10. Opponents, including Minority Leader Republican Don Turner, had sought alternative funding for the plan.  “I support cleaning up the waters of Vermont. I just don’t agree that raising these additional taxes and fees, in addition to the $35 million in new taxes and fees raised to date by this body, is the only solution.”

Speaker Shap Smith released a statement following the vote saying he was pleased that the “Vermont House has sent a clear signal that it is committed to cleaning up our rivers and lakes.”

Governor Peter Shumlin likewise praised the House vote, noting it’s not only about cleaning waterways but also “...protecting our economy...”

Friends of Northern Lake Champlain had advocated for passage of the bill and Executive Director Denise Smith was excited to see the House pass it.   “The fact that we will now have a clean water fund for the state of Vermont that will hopefully provide the flexible dollars we need to be able to match some of the federal money coming in for the farmers to be able to implement better conservation practices as well as to be able to implement good stormwater management practices in Vermont. Specifically in the northern lake where we have such an extreme amount of phosphorus entering our waterways. That piece of legislation right there is what I’m probably the most excited about. It just really validates the work that we’ve been doing and the work the state of Vermont has been doing to try to really bring waterways and the health of our waterways to the forefront.”

Vermont Natural Resources Council Water Program Director Kim Greenwood says a water quality bill usually applies to one sector, while this bill has provisions that will affect the full spectrum of pollution issues.   “In this case the bill has provisions for all the different pollution sources across the landscape. It addresses all of those sectors that are contributing to the problem.  However it doesn’t go after all those sectors in a way that is as quite as deep as it needs to be.  In other words, it touches a lot of different sectors. It doesn’t amp up what those sectors need to do quite enough  in my opinion. But it does look at all of those contributions. It’s a unique way of protecting water quality in Vermont and I hope it’s indicitave of a new way of thinking about our waters.”

Following the bill’s third reading and passage in the House it will move to the Senate for consideration.

Audio from the Vermont House is courtesy of Vermont Public Radio’s live stream from the Vermont Statehouse.