EPA Revokes Vermont’s Lake Champlain Cleanup Plan

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(Host) The federal Environmental Protection Agency has rejected Vermont’s cleanup plan for Lake Champlain.  

The agency says Vermont has made progress, but needs to do more to cut phosphorus pollution in the big lake.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.  

(Dillon) The EPA’s decision focuses on the pollution budget for the lake. The budget sets daily limits on the phosphorus that’s triggered blooms of toxic algae in the lake’s shallow bays. The current pollution budget was finalized ten years ago, and the agency no longer has confidence that it’s accurate enough to improve water quality. 

(Spalding) "Essentially the idea that allocation and the action in terms of producing water quality isn’t what it needs to be." 

(Dillon) Curt Spalding is the EPA’s administrator for New England. He says the new plan will use better science to measure and limit the amount of phosphorus from various sources – such as sewage treatment plants and manure from farms.

But Spalding says it’s too soon to say what pollution sources will face stricter controls in order to clean up the lake. 

(Spalding) "There’s got to be some degree of improvement that needs to come from all sources or we wouldn’t be doing this at all. I hesitate to say who’s got to do more or less at this point." 

(Dillon) The agency’s action comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation. The environmental group has been criticizing the cleanup plan since it was first released almost a decade ago. Louis Porter heads CLF’s "Lakekeeper" program. He says the EPA’s decision is an acknowledgment that the current plan isn’t working.  

(Porter) "It sets the groundwork for a new approach and a new relationship between the state and the EPA that will, and has the real potential to, at any rate, set out a new path to clean the lake up and keeping it clean." 

(Dillon) The administration of former Governor Jim Douglas frequently clashed with the EPA over Lake Champlain water pollution issues.  

Curt Spalding said the new plan will build on the previous administration’s Clean and Clear program for the lake.  

(Spalding) "I think the efforts were very genuine. This is complex stuff. It’s complex science in terms of good, specific understanding of what you need to do." 

(Dillon) David Mears is Vermont’s new environmental conservation commissioner. He heads the agency that will work with the feds on lake issues. 

(Mears) "I think it’s an opportunity for the lake. We can use this additional attention from the federal government to increase the amount of resources going to the lake. And that’s good for all Vermonters, so in that way it’s good news." 

(Dillon) The EPA has pledged to spend $150,000 to help Vermont come up with a more accurate plan to improve the lake’s water quality.  

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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