(Host) The Douglas administration unveiled legislation on Tuesday that would overhaul the way the state regulates stormwater pollution. The bill lifts a deadline to clean up damaged streams. And the proposal also gives the Agency of Natural Resources new authority to issue permits in polluted watersheds.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) For months, a group of scientists, state officials and advocates from the business and environmental community have worked to come up with new ways to measure and control stormwater. The work group got together at the urging of the Water Resources Board. And members of the group say they’re very close to agreement on a new approach to stormwater management.
But now the debate has shifted to the legislative arena. Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg came to the work group on Tuesday and unveiled sweeping new legislation that would essentially rewrite state stormwater statutes.
(Wennberg) “We’ve been working on developing this draft bill for almost as long as you folks have been working on a developing a conceptual program design.”
(Dillon) The state wants to eliminate a five-year deadline that’s now required in permits to clean up damaged streams. Officials want the ability to require companies to offset their pollution by improving other sites. And the state wants new authority to impose stormwater impact fees, and to write new general permits that cover entire watersheds.
Reaction to the proposal was mixed. Chuck Nichols of the Chamber of Commerce says it makes sense to eliminate the five year clean up deadline.
(Nichols) “The evidence I saw was that five years was pretty hard for anybody to guarantee. We don’t like impact fees, but I think they’re probably going to be necessary in some instances. So I think getting that authorization is important.”
(Dillon) But Kelly Lowry of the Vermont Natural Resources Council says that parts of the administration’s proposal appear to conflict with the federal clean water act. Lowry says the agency already has the legal authority to implement the recommendations of the stormwater work group.
(Lowry) “We feel like in many ways this is a mockery of what the process suggested. That there is a clear attempt to stay away from mandatory provisions of the federal clean water act, that there are at least two provisions where this statutory amendment would step away from decades old Vermont laws and federal laws that protect our waters and we feel that it’s not warranted.”
(Dillon) Commissioner Wennberg says the changes are needed. He says the state can’t impose impact fees, or eliminate the five year clean up deadline, without legislative approval.
(Wennberg) “There are a number of things, even separate and apart from the five year issue, that need to be addressed in the statute. And this proposal, somewhat comprehensively, tries to accomplish them all.”
(Dillon) Chittenden County Senator Ginny Lyons, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, is somewhat skeptical about the proposal. She points to potential conflicts with the proposal with federal law.
(Lyons) “And the other piece that’s of concern is not allowing citizens the right to appeal though legal system stormwater issues. And yet another is a possible exemption from stormwater rules implementation if costs are too high. So I mean there are some issues in the bill that are of great concern.”
(Dillon) Lyons says she wants to start her committee’s review of the stormwater issue with the work already done by the Water Resources Board.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.