Environmental Group Dismissed in Omya Ruling

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(Host) A citizens group has lost a round in its appeal of a wastewater permit granted to the Omya Corporation. The Swiss-based company has extensive operations in Rutland County, including in the village of Florence.

Environmentalists say the permit is too lax, and allows the company to use new pesticides without state approval. They had filed an appeal before the state Water Resources Board. Late last week, the Board issued a preliminary ruling that says the appeal should be dismissed.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) The first threshold in the Omya appeal was whether the group bringing the appeal had the legal right to do so. That right is called “standing.” If you don’t have standing to appeal, you get knocked out of the case before any issues of fact or law are considered.

A Danby-based citizens group called Vermonters for a Clean Environment had challenged the Omya permit. The group argued that the permit allowed the company to use new chemicals with little state oversight. But Omya told the Water Resources Board that the group didn’t meet the legal test required to bring the appeal.

On Friday, the board agreed with that position. Acting Chairman Lawrence Bruce said the citizens group failed to show that it has a “substantial interest” at stake in the appeal.

Andrew Snyder lives in Florence and supports the VCE appeal.

(Snyder) “I don’t think this is really about VCE . I think this is about accountability for all of us in Vermont to take responsibility for the cleanliness of the water we drink and the air we breathe. And Omya has that responsibility as well, especially as the largest user of biocides in the state of Vermont. They have an urgent need to be responsible, especially in light of the fact that they’ve had several violations.”

(Dillon) Omya processes calcium carbonate from crushed marble. It treats the material with preservatives and biocides to stop mold and bacteria from growing.

In his decision, the acting chairman of the Water Resources Board acknowledged Omya’s record of environmental violations. He said that given the company’s history of chemical spills in Florence, the state may need to tighten permit restrictions to protect nearby waterways.

But the chairman said that VCE by itself didn’t have the standing to bring the appeal. Annette Smith is VCE’s executive director. She says she’s baffled by the ruling.

(Smith) “It’s an environmental justice issue, too. If they’re saying organizations that don’t fit a particular legal definition can’t participate, then only the citizens who are directly impacted can participate. Well, it takes a lot of time and a lot of money to prepare cases like this. And it’s placing the burden on a handful of citizens to go up against, in this case, a global giant. Is this really how we want our environmental citizen boards to be working?”

(Dillon) Smith says VCE will ask the full Board to review the chairman’s decision. Omya’s lawyer had argued against the appeal. Company officials say they’re required to test the wastewater to make sure it doesn’t contain traces of chemicals. They also say they’ve tightened procedures after a spill 18 months ago.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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