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VERMONT: Looking to safeguard land, water, and air.

Vermont's tiny corner of New England is a place that has a tradition of respect for the environment, and CLF has been working hard to defend that tradition. This spring, the Vermont office launched an initiative to to enforce the Clean Water Act. Many of Vermont's lakes and rivers still fail to meet water quality standards. Fish contain unacceptable levels of mercury and other toxic contaminants. Lake Champlain experiences deadly algae blooms and chronic beach closings. Most of our rivers are dammed or suffer from having their flows altered. More than 1,000 miles of rivers and streams are listed as not suitable for swimming or fishing. What has gone wrong is that unregulated water pollution sources--stormwater from roads and parking lots and runoff from farms and sprawling housing subdivision--have increased to create a massive problem. A report released in late May on Lake Champlain's health finds that recent efforts to reduce phosphorus by upgrading wastewater treatment plants are being offset by increased runoff from new development in the Burlington area.

Unfortunately, the Dean administration has refused to regulate pollution runoff. Instead, the state has been happy to take the path of least resistance--preparing vague watershed plans and relying on voluntary controls. But this has been the basis of our current failed approach for the past 30 years.

In an Earth Day commentary featured by the Burlington Free Press, CLF announced its campaign to fight for restoring watershed health in Vermont, noting that "It's time for Vermont to come to grips with its last major source of water pollution--the answers are well-known, practical, and at hand." We are now working to tackle this problem with a vengeance. We have already drafted a new law for state legislators requiring better control of stormwater from existing housing and commercial subdivisions. We are also collaborating with the town of Shelburne to enact a new zoning model to protect stream banks and shorelines and to minimize runoff into Lake Champlain. We are working with Governor Dean and his environmental and agriculture departments to increase funding for green stream buffers along farm fields and to implement a program to remove the most damaging old dams from our rivers. In May, at CLF's urging, Governor Dean announced that he would double state funds to purchase conservation easements along streams to control farm pollution. Increased funding will help Vermont meet two goals: cleaner water and a healthy farm economy.

Protecting Vermont's small farms remains high on our agenda. In March, CLF teamed up with the Vermont Farm Bureau, the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., and apple growers across the region to oppose new rules proposed by FDA that threaten the livelihood of small cider operations throughout Vermont and New England. The new federal rules would require all cider producers to pasteurize their product to kill bacteria. But pasteurization is expensive, and many orchard owners will not be able to afford to buy the equipment. According to the Vermont Agriculture Department, the cider rule could have the effect of reducing the number of small cider producers in Vermont from 40 down to perhaps half a dozen. In comments filed with FDA, CLF asked the agency to exempt small retailers from the regulation and to consider more cost-effective options like ultra-violet technology and more careful washing of apples. CLF also enlisted the help of the Vermont congressional delegation. As a result, FDA appears to be listening. Meanwhile, CLF's Vermont and Massachusetts offices are working hard to build a strong coalition to defend the Northeast Dairy Compact from recent efforts by the Massachusetts Legislature to withdraw from the regional milk price support system. Without the compact, Vermont dairy farming will be driven into the ground, leaving New England without a local supply of dairy products.

This spring, we took direct action to stop state environmental officials from weakening Vermont's air pollution control program. In March, Vermont requested the EPA to grant a "waiver" of the federal NOx emission offset requirements. The waiver would allow several thousand more tons of NOx to be emitted each year without any offsetting reduction. Despite its reputation for clean air, Vermont's smog levels come close to exceeding federal ozone standards each summer, and frequently exceed levels considered unhealthy in other developed countries. New research also is showing that ozone smog is harming many of Vermont's native trees, including white ash, white pine, black cherry, sugar maple, and birch.

By sparking a legislative debate and raising concern in the press (the Burlington Free Press wrote that "in a world already harmed by NOx emission, this is the wrong path for a state with clean air to take"), CLF convinced the Dean Administration to back down and withdraw the waiver request. Following this success, we seized the opportunity to highlight the need for Vermont to do better in addressing its largest source of air pollution--cars, which account for more than half of our greenhouse gases. On CLF's advice, the governor appointed a task force that included CLF to develop stronger measures to reduce air pollution from cars and trucks.

The reconstruction of Route 9 in southern Vermont is likely to have long-term benefits for the state. Two years ago, CLF helped write new Vermont road design standards that provide flexibility to rebuild roads within current footprints (see Conservation Matters, Summer 1996, p. 28) instead of according to federal mega-standards. We wanted to ensure reduction of impacts to the rural landscapes, small communities, wetlands, and rivers. However, in the Route 9 project, the transportation agency decided to ignore the new road standards and return to its expensive overbuilding practices of past years. Beginning this summer, the agency was ready to bulldoze the Deerfield River in order to double the paved surface of Route 9 to serve bigger rigs and faster speeds. CLF immediately intervened in the state Act 250 and federal permitting proceedings to stop the road widening. The intervention had immediate results. As the chair of the Wilmington Selectboard stated to the Brattleboro Reformer, "The way to resolve the road project the quickest is to deal with CLF. If this were a horse race, I would certainly back CLF." The transportation agency apparently agreed. It has gone back to the drawing board and will scale back the road to safeguard the Deerfield watershed.

On the energy front, we have been fighting the proposed sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to a multinational company (see story on page 28). CLF's primary concern is that the PrOPosed "fire" sale sells the plant for only, eight cents on the dollar and requires Vermont ratepayers to buy back all of the power produced from Vermont Yankee for 12 more years at above-market prices. This will lock Vermont consumers into another uneconomical power contract, on top of the existing high-price contract with Hydro Quebec. The agreement also will have the effect of continuing the use of ratepayer subsidies to support the uneconomical plant, shielding it from market forces and preventing Vermonters from accessing cleaner, cheaper power now coming into the region.

--Mark Sinclair Vermont Advocacy Center Director
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Author:Sinclair, Mark
Publication:Conservation Matters
Geographic Code:1U1VT
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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