Water Board Dismisses Group’s Standing in Omya Case

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(Host) A state appeals board has ruled that a citizens group does not have the legal right to challenge a pollution permit issued to Omya Incorporated. Omya produces calcium carbonate at its plant in Pittsford. This material is made from ground marble and is used in many industrial and commercial products.

The environmental group Vermonters for a Clean Environment had appealed the state permit that allows Omya to use new pesticides without prior state approval. On Tuesday, the state Water Resources Board dismissed the case. The Board said that the group didn’t have the legal standing to bring the appeal.

Annette Smith is VCE’s executive director. She says the decision sets a new legal threshold for citizens’ groups:

(Smith) “What this decision has done is raise the bar for participation in Water Resources Board appeals. They’re saying that you have to meet the strict definition of a corporate membership in order to participate in their forum.”

(Host) In its decision, the Board said that VCE failed to show that it is a membership-based organization that would have the right to appeal. The Board said that since VCE’s members don’t vote for the group’s directors, they are not legally members of the organization.

But Smith says VCE members live in Pittsford and are concerned about water pollution from the Omya plant. She says the Board’s decision means those members can’t be represented by VCE in the appeal:

(Smith) “In this case we have a member who is a witness in our hearing who testified that she’s afraid to drink the water. She contacted VCE with her concerns and she became a member of VCE because of these concerns. So we seemed to have met the legal definition of what is in the Water Resources Board’s rules. And what they’re doing is they’re writing the rules as they go along.”

(Host) Smith says VCE has not yet decided whether it will appeal the decision to state court.

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