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May 25, 2017

2017 Final Legislative Update: Environment

An analysis from DRM's Government & Public Affairs Team

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ENVIRONMENT

50th Anniversary of Act 250 (H.424)

Carbon Tax and Carbon Cap and Trade (Various Bills)

Contamination of Potable Water with PFOA (S.10)

Investing in Clean Water (H.519) (Various Bills)

Preventing Exposure to Toxic Substances (S.103)

50th Anniversary of Act 250

H.424

Vermont’s venerable land use law known as Act 250 will be 50 years old in the spring of 2020, and many lawmakers feel that it is due for a facelift as the state looks ahead to development over the next 50 years. H.424 establishes a “Commission on Act 250: The Next 50 Years.” The commission, comprising seven legislators, will review a laundry list regarding the goals, accomplishments and operation of the land use law.

An advisory committee made up of a wide range of state officials and private interests will advise the group, and it will hold meetings around the state to hear from the public. Topics to be considered include perennial favorites, such as whether review of disagreements should be “de novo” or “on the record,” and new topics, such as how the law will address the reality of climate change. A report with proposed legislation is due to the General Assembly in December, 2018.

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Carbon Tax and Carbon Cap and Trade

Various Bills

The idea of enacting a tax on the carbon content of petroleum-based fuels has generate a great deal of publicity during the past few sessions and this one was no different. At least five bills were introduced calling for a carbon tax, and the topic was the focus of news conferences in and outside of the Statehouse where Vermont lawmakers claimed to be leading the way. None of the bills, however, were approved.

Several of the bills and some of the rhetoric called for transforming the existing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon cap and trade program to include transportation and petroleum heating fuels. A resolution that calls on the governor to lead that effort, JRH. 6, remains pinned to the wall in the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee.

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Contamination of Potable Water with PFOA

S.10

A bill aimed at forcing the Saint-Gobain company to pay for the extension of water lines to homes whose wells were contaminated with the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid in Bennington and North Bennington passed both Houses and will be sent to Gov. Scott. The bill, S.10, grants the Secretary of Natural Resources the option of determining whether a party has released PFOA into the land, air and water, whether it pollutes or threatens a potable water supply and whether the responsible party should be required to pay for the costs of extending municipal water lines to the property.

The bill follows discovery of significant PFOA in the ground and water at the site, where Teflon coatings were once applied to manufactured products. Saint-Gobain never operated the facility, but purchased it from a prior owner and moved the operations elsewhere.

PFOA was also used as a firefighting compound and has been found elsewhere in the state; but only the Bennington sites are known to be relevant to the bill. Scott is expected to sign it.

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Investing in Clean Water

H.519 Various Bills

The state will invest more than $110 million in state and federal resources through July 2019 toward remediating impaired waters across the state and to comply with an agreement with the U.S. EPA to mitigate pollution in Lake Champlain. Nearly half of that will come from a pair of significant investments contained in the Capital Appropriations Bill, H.519. Over the next two years, approximately $25 million per year will be spent on municipal programs for storm water mitigation and pollution control. Other significant investments combine state and federal funding in the transportation area.

One area of water funding that received attention was the approved diversion of $1 million of the $5 million raised annually by a 0.2 percent property transfer tax surcharge away from clean water and into affordable housing via the budget bill. Environmental advocates at first reacted strongly against the proposal, but backed down when the total commitment to water funding was enumerated.

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Preventing Exposure to Toxic Substances

S.103

After PFOA was discovered in Bennington and at other sites across the state, the legislature charged a summer study committee with evaluating potential exposures to toxic chemicals and the protections afforded by existing laws. The task force was charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly on ways to improve chemical protection.

The Act 154 Task Force Report included a laundry list of recommendations, many of them drawn from wish list of activist groups. While some of the recommendations were approved by a majority of the task force members, they did not necessarily represent consensus recommendations.

Ideas included in the report ranged from better coordination among regulatory programs dealing with chemicals to allowing citizens to file enforcement actions and forcing potentially responsible parties to pay for regular medical monitoring of persons who might have been exposed to chemicals. The Senate pared the list down to a series of practical steps aimed at coordinating existing programs, but the House attempted to reach beyond consensus recommendations to amend a highly controversial law aimed at protecting children from chemical risks in children’s products. The move proved too bold for the Senate too late in the session, and S.103 failed to receive final consideration this year.

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