Shumlin administration weighs taxes and other means of funding Lake Champlain cleanup

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BURLINGTON -- The Shumlin administration will consider raising taxes for the restoration of Lake Champlain.

At Vermont Environmental Consortium's third annual water quality conference in Burlington on Wednesday, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears said the administration will have a funding proposal for the cleanup in November.

Mears said the state hopes to secure federal funding, eliminate inefficiencies in state government, and raise revenue to meet its commitment to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The state must reduce phosphorus loading into the lake by 36 percent and has proposed its own restoration plan, which is part of its legal obligation under the Clean Water Act.

He said other states have increased sales tax, placed fees on development that cause surface runoff and surcharges on septic tanks. The Vermont Legislature considered raising tourism and recreation taxes last session.

"All of these are viable options," Mears said.

The Shumlin administration last week submitted its final proposal to the EPA. The EPA will now model the state's plan to determine if it will meet targeted phosphorus reductions. If the EPA rejects the plan, it can require the state's sewer treatment facilities to implement the most advanced technology to limit pollution further, regulate large farms, and cut financial support to the state.

Under this situation, Mears said, many communities across the state will have to pay a lot of money "to not get the job done."

"So we're going to pay one way or another. And I think it's incumbent on us as a state to think about how do we spread those costs in a way that is effective and fair," he said.

Some speakers at the conference said taxes will not cause a change in behavior necessary to ensure the lake's long-term water quality. The event's keynote speaker, Pierre Leduc, who is vice chairman of Corporation Baie Missisquoi, said the lake's largest polluters should pay for largest share of the cleanup.

Big-box shopping malls with large parking lots create runoff and erosion. And large farms that lack adequate crop cover allow phosphorus from fields to run into nearby streams - all of which cause pollution that comes at a cost to communities in Vermont statewide, he said.

"Why would we subsidize those activities by having everybody else paying to clean it up afterwards?" Leduc said. "Can we take some of those private profits to pay for the damage caused by those activities?"

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He said a market-based approach would sway business practices: a tax on phosphorus-laden fertilizer or a cap-and-trade program where the state sets a "cap" on phosphorous pollution and developers and farmers pay to offset their phosphorous pollution.

"We like to see the market work," Leduc said. "But to make it work, you need to internalize the costs. Put the costs in the right place."

Shoreland Protection Act signed into law

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Wednesday legislation that sets new permitting standards for building within 250 feet of the state's lake shorelines.

The Shoreland Protection Act will take effect July 1 and applies to all lakes and ponds greater than 10 acres in size. It is designed to protect shoreline habitats and water quality disturbed by clear-cutting and development along the state's shorelines.

"This new law makes a powerful statement that we will protect the shorelands of our lakes and ponds, and do so without sacrificing the right to use, enjoy and develop shoreland properties," Shumlin said in a statement.

"We have moved forward to protect the natural beauty and environmental health of our waterways, ensure their economic value is protected, and preserve local control for communities that have already taken strides in this area," he said.

The Agency of Natural Resources is providing property owners with information on new standards. The agency will host an information session on June 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission's office in Winooski.

Environmental advocates support the new standards as a step forward to protecting the state's water quality.

"It won't undo the damage we've done where we've built too close to our lakes, it will help safeguard water quality and wildlife habitat for future generations of Vermonters," said Kim Greenwood, a staff scientist with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, in a statement Wednesday.

Projects located within 250 feet of the shoreline must not be located on a 20 percent slope; no more than 40 percent of the area can be cleared of natural vegetation; and no more than 20 percent of the area can be impervious. These are baseline standards that the agency has the authority to expand. Towns with similar standards can enforce their own program.


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