VT Legislative Updates

Legislators have been busy in Montpelier. Photo from Wikipedia.


Earlier this month we reported that in February, the Vermont House passed a three-year moratorium on the gas extraction procedure known as fracking. Now that the cross-over deadline has passed, Senate and House Committees will be spending more time on bills that were passed by the opposite side. The fracking bill is currently in the Senate Natural Resources Committee and testimony will begin on Thursday, March 22. LCC supports a fracking moratorium in the Champlain watershed. “There simply is not enough known or disclosed about the process and too little oversight at this time,” said LCC Executive Director Lori Fisher. “We urge Vermonters to contact their state senators and ask them to support passage of a ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.”

Our friends at VPIRG have scheduled a community forum focused on banning fracking for Wednesday, March 28 at 7:00 PM at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier. Speakers include environmental activist Bill McKibben and VT Senate Natural Resources Committee Chair Ginny Lyons. A recent Bloomberg News National Poll indicates that the U.S. public favors greater regulation of fracking.

Water Quality Funding

The House Fish, Water, and Wildlife Resources Committee voted on a bill that would establish a study committee to identify new funding sources for water quality protection and restoration efforts. A primary focus of the study committee would be to consider the feasibility of assessing a small fee on all impervious surfaces in the state similar to the city of South Burlington’s program to fund stormwater management. LCC has long supported such programs under the principal that more impervious surfaces leads to more stormwater pollution. Therefore, fees tied to impervious surface are appropriate.

Late drafts of the bill also included provisions to shift authority for issuing many state rules from the Water Resources Panel to the Agency of Natural Resources. The Panel is a public body, independent of the Agency of Natural Resources, comprised of four citizen members plus a Chair.

River Bills

The Senate Natural Resources Committee voted out an important river bill that would clarify management obligations particularly in emergency situations. Following Tropical Storm Irene there was a great deal of confusion about what work was and was not allowed in-streams. As a result, numerous poorly considered berming and dredging projects took place that could lead to long-term instability in river systems. The Senate bill would require the Agency of Natural Resources to establish a general permit that would come into affect when a State of Emergency is declared. The permit would outline the types of acceptable and unacceptable in-stream work that might occur. The bill would also call on the Agency of Natural Resources to map suspected locations where a river could change course in a severe storm.

Passage of the bill could prevent some of the ill-advised work that occurred in streams following Irene during future floods. Passage would also help communities prepare for future storms. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bills this week after which they will still need to pass the House. Contact LCC Staff Scientist Mike Winslow for more information.

In a separate bill, the Senate Natural Resources Committee called for a coordinated public safety message on the storage and recovery of propane tanks displaced during floods. “During spring flooding and Tropical Storm Irene, numerous propane tanks washed away from homes,” said Lori Fisher, LCC Executive Director. “We need stricter standards to better protect property and our waterways.” The proposed bill requires the Vermont Department of Public Service to develop and distribute education materials on how to stabilize tanks during floods so they don’t get lost.