Gov. Peter Shumlin. VTD/Josh Larkin
Gov. Peter Shumlin. VTD/Josh Larkin
MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin had a day of firsts last Thursday. Shortly after he inked the nation’s first single-payer health care legislation, Shumlin also vetoed his first bill, S.77, which would have mandated water testing for private wells.

The bill would have required all newly drilled wells intended for use as a potable water supply to undergo testing for contaminates. The same tests would have been required if such wells were sold.

Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, said he was “absolutely flabbergasted” when he learned that the governor planned to veto the bill.

As chairman of the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, Deen said he had worked to ensure the legislation was acceptable to all parties. Negotiations in committee, he said, had eased the concerns of the Vermont Association of Realtors, who had initially opposed the bill. He said he also consulted with Harry Chen, commissioner of the Department of Health.

Kim Greenwood, staff scientist at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, who worked with the Agency of Natural Resources on the bill, said there was very little opposition.

“I was very surprised (it was vetoed) because there wasn’t a lot of controversy around this,” she said. Greenwood said that there were questions raised about which tests should be done and some concerns about the bill’s implementation, but not the legislation itself. “I’m not aware that there was a lot of – or any – opposition to the bill,” Greenwood said.

“It is striking,” Greenwood said in a statement released by the council, “that on the same day the governor signs a landmark health care bill, he vetoes a measure designed to protect public health by requiring the testing of new drinking water wells for arsenic, lead and uranium, among other things.”

Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said while her office had been communicating with the governor about S.77, there had been “no prior conversations with the governor about this specific bill.”

“We do what we can to work with the Legislature to craft a bill that we can live with,” she said, “and that’s what we did (with S.77).”

Markowitz said that the bill’s enactment was ultimately in Shumlin’s hands. She said her agency had taken no official position on S.77.

In a statement, Shumlin said, “I don’t believe the government should mandate the testing of every single new well, with the cost and burden on individual private property owners that this bill would impose.”

Deen disagreed with the governor’s criticism. New wells, he said, typically cost up to $10,000 to install.

“To then spend 150 bucks to see what is in the water doesn’t seem like an unreasonable cost,” he said.

Deen added that “the key word is ‘potable,’” meaning that wells drilled for agricultural or industrial uses would not be held to the same testing standards.

Twitter: @@taylordobbs. Taylor Dobbs is a freelance reporter based in Burlington, Vt. Dobbs is a recent graduate of the journalism program at Northeastern University. He has written for PBS-NOVA, Wired...

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