Despite the sordid floor show that has threatened to pull focus away from the serious work facing our Vermont senate over the past week, that distinguished body did manage to pass the H.35 water bill today.
While not the long-term fix that is so badly needed, passage of the bill is an important first step toward addressing the critical condition of Vermont’s greatest natural resource, Lake Champlain.
Furthermore, it means that the EPA shouldn’t have to take control of the situation; something that no one is eager to see happen. That agency will let us know in July what it will take in the way of limits on Total Maximum Daily Load of phosphorus to keep Vermont’s efforts independent from direct Federal mandates.
H.35 sets a price tag for the effort of $7.5 million which will come from a 0.2 % surcharge on the property transfer tax as well as fees on pollution permits, some larger farm registrations and the sale of products that contribute to the problem (fertilizers and pesticides).
An alternate funding scheme which would have asked all Vermont landowners to make a small contribution to the clean-up was rejected, although it is difficult to see how the accepted scheme will ever raise enough money to do the job.
Lauren Hierl, political director of Vermont Conservation Voters acknowledged how challenging it was for the Legislature to frame a passable bill, and expressed measured appreciation for the effort:
“Today, the Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that aims to clean up Vermont waters, including Lake Champlain. The hardest work is still to come implementing programs to clean up major pollution sources, but this bill sets out an important framework for moving the state toward healthier waters, and provides critical funding for clean-up efforts. I thank the Senate for its diligent work on this water quality legislation.”
To which Kim Greenwood, the Vermont Natural Resource Council’s tireless water program director adds:
“The real substance of what’s to come is yet to be proposed,”
The bill provides for performance audits that will measure the effectiveness of spending choices. With the limited funding channels that the senate has approved, it will be all the more important to ensure that what little there is is well-spent.
Note: I am proud to serve on the Board of Vermont Conservation Voters.