Shumlin not keen on earmarking state money for Lake Champlain cleanup

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger


Federal regulators have called on the state to clean up Lake Champlain – requiring an implementation plan and the financial resources to back it up. But Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has maintained his pledge of no new taxes, will not offer up any state money this year.

“There’s going to be all kinds of ideas and proposals floated,” Shumlin said last week when asked about available state money for the cleanup. “I can tell you this, I’m for clean water.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the state to reduce phosphorus loading into Lake Champlain and is threatening to use the Clean Water Act to tighten water discharge limits on the state’s wastewater treatment centers if the state fails to provide “reasonable assurances” to clean up the lake by the end of April.

The state has made significant progress on the issue, according to EPA officials, but the federal agency is still looking for a financial commitment from the state.

“They want specific steps and they want to know how we intend to pay for it,” said Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, chair of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee.

The committee has been pushing to get an omnibus water quality bill through this session. The bill, H.586, includes a menu of funding options, including tax increases to funnel money to the cleanup.

But the administration does not plan to put any financial commitments on the table this year; instead, it will wait until the EPA issues a detailed plan to cut back on phosphorus loading into the lake later this summer.

The administration will send a letter to the EPA by the end of April detailing the state’s commitment to the cleanup. Shumlin said he will provide only the necessary details to get the EPA’s “buy-in,” which he hopes does not include a financial commitment.

Shumlin said the state should first figure out how to best spend existing funds to clean up the state’s lakes and rivers before putting money on the line.

“We’ve spent a lot of loot over the last 10, 20 years in Vermont on this one. And the results have been pretty paltry,” Shumlin said. He said he is telling his administration, “‘listen, you’ve got to convince me that you’ve got a plan that’s going to work before I’m going to be spending one dime on this.”

State agencies are looking inland to the state’s forests, roads, farms and urban landscapes to reduce the lake’s phosphorus loading by 36 percent, according to the state’s proposed Lake Champlain Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which sets phosphorus pollution targets.

The administration plans to leverage federal funds to support the cleanup, including existing grants from the Department of Agriculture, the agencies of Transportation and Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the EPA.

“We are working very hard to persuade the federal government that this is a national resource and they also need to increase their federal level of investment,” Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears said.

Mears, who has been leading the charge on the cleanup, said the state will need help from the federal government for the task.

“And that could make a big difference. Because if it’s just state funding alone, I’m not confident that we can get the plan done that we’re hoping to implement,” he said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have been working to put several revenue sources on the table to demonstrate a commitment to the EPA.

A proposed water quality bill sets new standards for agriculture, forestry and infrastructure – all nonpoint sources of water pollution, the key factors leading to phosphorus loading into the lake.

The committee attached several funding mechanisms to each proposal, including a 0.25 percent increase in the state’s rooms and meals tax; a 0.25 percent increase in the liquor and wine sales tax; and a 1 percent fee on rental vehicles – scraping together more than $4 million annually, according to the committee’s working proposal.

The bill will have to pass through several money committees before arriving on the House floor, but Deen said the committee will likely get the bill out before next week’s crossover deadline.

“It’s going to be a heavy lift for those other committees to get to it and get through,” he said Thursday morning, “but we intend to try.”

Stephen Perkins, director of ecosystem protection for the EPA, said in an interview that any funding proposals put on the table would be “very positive.”

“We want to get a clear picture of what programs will be implemented by when,” Perkins told lawmakers during a visit to Vermont last month. “We want to see how all of that lays out to have confidence that stuff is going to happen.”

John Herrick

Comments

  1. Why don’t we start with Mandatory Buffer Zones? If Ag is responsible for 30% of the P load then why not take this step? It should have been done when the concept of Industrial Farming and Liquid manure was brought to the State. Our Leaders, who are always saying, we need to “clean up” our water ways, certainly are making a poor showing of it by letting Agribusiness progress to this level without oversight and protection of our water. Buffer Zones should have been a priority.

    Could someone please explain where the P comes from in our forest? Also, I would like to know where P comes from off our Class 3 roads?

  2. James Maroney :

    The governor is right when he says we have spent a whole lot of loot on this thing and gotten nothing in return. But he seems to believe that is justification for continuing to do the same thing we have been doing, or that appears to be what he has instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to do. The strongest measure in the Plan for a Clean Lake Champlain is the Accepted Agricultural Practices, which have been in effect for twenty years and are empirically ineffective. The plan also reasserts the primacy of Nutrient Management Plans, which have been required of LFOs and now MFOs for twenty years; these too are empirically ineffective.

    Lake Champlain receives pollutants from three sources, Municipal (5%), Storm water (45%) and agriculture (50%). The EPA now demands that Vermont finally comply with the Clean Water Act which we have not complied with since it was enacted in 1972. The EPA’s authority, however, is limited to point source pollution, which means waste water treatment. It has the power to force the state to redesign and reconstruct aging or inadequate plants, which would cost the state hundreds of millions. But that expenditure would only lower the contribution from waste water plants from 5% to 4% or possibly 3%; not much bang for the buck.

    There is an important difference between the the first two sources and the third: we are not going to stop driving, it is not going to stop raining and we are not going to stop going to the bathroom. Fixing these things is going to cost hundreds of millions and we may not even then meet our TMDL. But agriculture is voluntary. We do not need to farm, but if we do, we certainly do not need to pollute the lake to farm.
    Reforming agriculture must be what the governor wants; it can be done at very little cost and the effect will be both dramatic and felt in a few years if done right. But doing it right is going to require that Mr. Mears and Mr. Ross bite some pretty hard, cold bullets. Here is a short list of actions to take to get them started on the right road:

    (i) repeal the MOU entered into on April 16, 1993, that shifted responsibility for water quality from ANR and ill advisedly awarded it to VAAF&M;
    (ii) repeal the broad exemption the legislature provided to agriculture and silviculture in Vermont’s land use regulations and in Act 250;
    (iii) in order to meet the governor’s policy of shifting 90% of energy consumption to renewable fuels by 2050, promulgate rules to restrict consumption of petroleum products for farming, the 2nd largest consumer of energy after heat generation;
    (iv) make the receipt of ALL state subsidies — Current Use, Vermont Land Trust, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Farm to Plate, Save the Working Landscape, sales tax abatements, etc., — contingent upon converting to sustainable farming methods.

    The governor says he is for clean water; bravo that. My recommendations are based on two inescapable realities: (i) Vermont must comply with the CWA and clean up the lake and (ii) since Vermonters spend 95% of their food dollars on food imported from elsewhere, Vermont does not need to farm conventionally in order to have food.

  3. James Maroney :

    The governor is right when he says we have spent a whole lot of loot on this thing and gotten nothing in return. But he seems to believe that is justification for continuing to do the same thing we have been doing, or that appears to be what he has instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to do. The strongest measure in the Plan for a Clean Lake Champlain is the Accepted Agricultural Practices, which have been in effect for twenty years and are empirically ineffective. The plan also reasserts the primacy of Nutrient Management Plans, which have been required of LFOs and now MFOs for twenty years; these too are empirically ineffective.

    Lake Champlain receives pollutants from three sources, Municipal (5%), Storm water (45%) and agriculture (50%). The EPA now demands that Vermont finally comply with the Clean Water Act, which we have not complied with since it was enacted in 1972. The EPA’s authority, however, is limited to point source pollution, which means wastewater treatment. It has the power to force the state to redesign and reconstruct aging or inadequate plants, which would cost the state hundreds of millions. But that expenditure would only lower the contribution from wastewater plants from 5% to 4% or possibly 3%; not much bang for the buck.

    There is an important difference between the first two sources and the third: we are not going to stop driving, it is not going to stop raining and we are not going to stop going to the bathroom. Fixing these things is going to cost hundreds of millions and we may not even then meet our TMDL. But agriculture is voluntary. We do not need to farm, but if we do, we certainly do not need to pollute the lake to farm.
    Reforming agriculture must be what the governor wants; it can be done at very little cost and the effect will be both dramatic and felt in a few years if done right. But doing it right is going to require that Mr. Mears and Mr. Ross bite some pretty hard, cold bullets. Here is a short list of actions to take to get them started on the right road:

    (i) Repeal the MOU entered into on April 16, 1993, that shifted responsibility for water quality from ANR and ill advisedly awarded it to VAAF&M;
    (ii) Repeal the broad exemption the legislature provided to agriculture and silviculture in Vermont’s land use regulations and in Act 250;
    (iii) In order to meet the governor’s policy of shifting 90% of energy consumption to renewable fuels by 2050, promulgate rules to restrict consumption of petroleum products for farming, the 2nd largest consumer of energy after heat generation;
    (iv) Make the receipt of ALL state subsidies — Current Use, Vermont Land Trust, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Farm to Plate, Save the Working Landscape, sales tax abatements, etc., — contingent upon converting to sustainable farming methods.

    The governor says he is for clean water; bravo that. And he does not want to spend any more money to do it; my recommendations are based on these same two goals: (i) Vermont must comply with the CWA and clean up the lake and (ii) since Vermonters spend 95% of their food dollars on food imported from elsewhere, Vermont does not need to farm conventionally in order to have food.

  4. Stu Lindberg :

    My understanding is that Federal Ag subsidy policy promotes large farms that create the majority of pollutants going into the lake. If farmers want the subsidies they need to get big. Big means more manure in a larger environmental footprint. Back in the day Vermont had many successful small farms where the land could handle the amount of waste produced. Would a solution be to pull the plug on the Big farm subsidies, or for that matter, all farm subsidies and let the market and the land take care of itself?

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