VT Water Quality Bill Inches Toward Passage

Lawmakers continue to work on crafting a water quality bill in Montpelier as the session nears its end. Photo from Wikipedia.

The water quality bill in Montpelier passed the full House on April 2 by a vote of 133-11. The bill has since been amended and approved by the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a vote of 4-1 with the lone dissenter calling for even stronger regulation of forestry practices. The bill now sits in Senate Finance where details of how to pay for the efforts are still being worked out.

The version of the bill that passed in Senate Natural Resources includes some changes over the last bill we wrote about, but the broad outlines remain the same. The most important difference is in the source of funds for water quality improvements. Where the House bill raised the gas tax and the rooms and meals tax, the Senate version would instead apply a $25 fee on all land parcels in the state.

Otherwise, the two House and Senate bills are very similar. Both establish a Clean Water Fund with a governance board, though the House bill includes at least one environmental advocacy organization with water quality expertise on the board while the Senate’s board would have only five appointees of the Governor. Both bills call for revision and strengthening of Accepted Agricultural Practices, though the Senate bill changes the name to Required Agricultural Practices. Both bills create a self-certification program for small farms and allow the Agency of Agriculture to dis-enroll farms from the Current Use program if they don't follow minimum water quality protection practices. Other provisions include authorization of new permitting programs for local roads, increased involvement of Regional Planning Commissions in developing river basin water quality plans, and mandatory forest management practices to protect water quality. Any differences between the House and Senate bills remaining after full Senate passage will be worked out in a conference committee.

There is still time and a need to contact your Senators and tell them you support strong water quality protection and that you’re willing to pay for it.  We need to assure that the water quality bill does not get lost or weakened in the end of season shuffle.