EPA Says Stormwater Bill Conflicts with Federal Law

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(Host) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a Vermont bill that is supposed to add clarity to the water pollution permit process will instead cause confusion and delay. The EPA’s comments came in response to stormwater legislation that has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The House legislation was designed to make it easier for developers to get stormwater permits. A lobbyist for the business community drafted the bill after the Water Resources Board ruled last summer in a high profile case involving the Lowe’s Home Center.

Developers complained the ruling was too restrictive. The House bill essentially overturns the Board’s decision. It says companies can get stormwater permits if they use controls like retention ponds to handle the greasy water from roads and parking lots.

But a senior lawyer in the EPA’s Boston office says the legislation will have unintended consequences:

(Williams) "We’re very concerned that this bill, rather than creating regulatory certainty for the business community, is instead going to create a lot of confusion."

(Dillon) Ann Williams works in the EPA’s office of regional counsel. She believes that the stormwater bill is not consistent with the federal clean water act.

For example, the Vermont bill says that if developments use certain technological controls, then they’ll automatically meet water quality standards.

But according to Williams, the federal Clean Water Act requires that the water itself must be clean, not whether certain treatment practices are followed:

(Williams) "To the extent that this bill creates inconsistencies, that’s going to put the regulated community in a difficult position. Because while they may believe they are going to get permits more easily under state law, the reality is they may not be able to meet some federal law requirements. So as a result, this may slow down the permitting process rather than speed it up."

(Dillon) The lobbyist who wrote the legislation disagrees with the EPA. Dale Rocheleau represents two Chittenden County business groups. He says the legislation requires developers to follow the state’s 1997 stormwater procedures.

To him, that means that streams must meet water quality standards. Rocheleau thinks the bill can be clarified to address the EPA’s concerns:

(Rocheleau) "None of us want to end up with a bill that doesn’t work or that unintentionally leads to pollution of the state’s waters. The objective of the bill is to clean up the state’s water, not to make it dirtier."

(Dillon) The Vermont Natural Resources Council Environmental Group has argued for months that the stormwater bill conflicts with federal law. Kelly Lowry is the group’s lawyer. It’s his opinion that the bill will lead to regulatory delay and dirty water:

(Lowry) "It would create a state statutory permitting system that is in direct conflict with the federal Clean Water Act. It’s going to result in the state issuing permits that are illegal under federal law. That’s not going to get anybody where they want to be."

(Dillon) The EPA’s New England administrator spelled out his agency’s concern in a recent letter to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The committee is taking testimony on the stormwater bill this week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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