House Debates Stormwater Bill

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(Host) The Vermont House has approved a bill that would make it easier for developers to win stormwater pollution permits. The roll call vote was 96 to 46 in favor of the measure. The bill was drafted in response to a ruling last summer that business groups said would restrict development in Chittenden County.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Stormwater is no longer an obscure pollution issue. The Vermont House has waded deep into the details of how the state should regulate the greasy, sediment-filled water that flows off pavement and parking lots. Stormwater has damaged streams and Lake Champlain.

But the motivation for the Legislature’s debate was a ruling last summer by the Water Resources Board. The Board said that Lowe’s Home Center could not get a stormwater permit unless it showed that its runoff would not do more damage to a stream that’s already polluted. Lowe’s eventually got its permit for its South Burlington store.

But business groups complain that the Board’s decision raised an uncertain and potentially insurmountable hurdle for developers. Randolph Representative Phil Angell chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and is the lead sponsor of the legislation:

(Angell) "The purpose is to allow responsible development in places where development is planned and to clean up the waters of the state¿."

(Dillon) The House bill allows state regulators to issue permits if the developers follow "best management practices" to handle stormwater. These could include building ponds that would hold the stormwater after a big rain.

But critics say the bill conflicts with the federal Clean Water Act and state water quality standards. Westminster Democrat David Deen says the bill would allow stormwater pollution to continue so long as developers used certain treatment methods:

(Deen) "I’ve heard the bill described as being surreal in its legislative language because there’s a separation between the actual quality of the water and the definition in the bill of what is clean water, which is how you’re treating it, not is the water clean."

(Dillon) Critics like Deen say the bill would add more uncertainty for developers, because permits could be challenged under federal law. But the bill’s sponsors say it would end delays of stormwater permits.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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