It’s Possible

Apr 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A walk along Boston Harbor today reveals a waterfront that’s both beautiful and vibrant. Water taxis and sailboats skim its waters; tourists and locals stroll along its shores; fishermen catch striped bass right off the docks; and waterside restaurants brighten the evening.

It’s hard to believe that, barely a generation ago, this same harbor was in crisis, a dirty and rancid stew of raw sewage and toxic pollution. Back then, it was deemed the problem too big, too dirty, too impossible to solve. No one wanted to step up and do anything about it. But, rather than back down from this challenge, we at CLF declared we were going to take back Boston Harbor from the polluters.

And we did.

Cleaning up Boston Harbor is just one of the seemingly impossible challenges CLF has taken on – and won.

Thanks to the support of people like you, the remarkable transformation of Boston Harbor is just one of the seemingly impossible challenges CLF has taken on – and won – in our nearly 50-year history.

It was really kind of outrageous at the time that our small band of lawyers and policy advocates took on both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Environmental Protection Agency – and won. No one then could have predicted that this was going to be a $4.5 billion, generational effort to rebuild metropolitan Boston’s entire water, sewer, and stormwater systems – or that our efforts to ensure clean water drains into Boston Harbor would still be ongoing today.

You can’t deny the results. Today, Boston Harbor is swimmable and fishable. Boston now has a world-class water and sewer authority and a National Park celebrating the Boston Harbor Islands. Billions of dollars were invested in real estate, producing thousands of jobs around the harbor in the process. And Boston Harbor now has its own watchdog – Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a group CLF helped form to carry our vigilance forward.

While CLF was just the point of the spear that made all of this happen, it was a very sharp point directed very strategically.

Boston Harbor, iconic though it is, was not the first time CLF had taken on a seemingly impossible challenge. And it certainly wasn’t the last. Oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank? Stopped. A four-lane highway through Franconia Notch? Blocked. A destructive dam on the Penobscot River? Defeated. Big coal in Massachusetts? Shutting down. The largest landfill in Rhode Island flouting the Clean Air Act? Called to account. Pollution choking Lake Champlain? Getting cleaned up for the benefit of all.

And that’s the short list.

Now, today, in 2015, we are facing the defining challenge of our age – climate change. It’s bigger and more complex than anything we’ve tackled before, and it’s going to touch everything we all hold dear about New England: our communities, our environment, and our livelihoods.

But it’s not an impossible challenge, despite inaction and denial at so many levels of our government. Yes, we need international and national leadership on climate change, but let’s be clear: The real solutions are going to be forged at the state and regional levels and that’s where CLF shines. This is CLF’s moment.

Dealing with climate change is going to take every tool in our toolbox, every ounce of expertise we have, every innovative idea we can generate, and every ally we can muster. It won’t be easy, and I would be misleading you if I didn’t note that it’s already too late to head off some of the climate impacts New England will experience.

But, frankly, it’s when we’re told that a challenge can’t be overcome that we are at our most bold, our most creative, and our most tenacious. I know – because in my 30 years with CLF, I’ve seen us surmount the impossible time and time again.

What really keeps us moving forward, tackling New England’s biggest environmental challenges, is our commitment to all of you – and to people and communities large and small across New England. For nearly 50 years, people like you have been our critical partners in what’s possible. You have helped CLF close polluting power plants, clean up New England’s air and water, bolster the health of our oceans, and boost the vitality of our communities.

You are helping New England thrive – for people today and for future generations tomorrow. We’re honored to have you by our side and thank you for your commitment to making a difference.

This April, we’re seeking to raise $25,000 toward our efforts to solve New England’s seemingly impossible environmental challenges – ensuring clean air and clean water, healthy oceans and healthy communities for all. Please give, now, as generously as you can, to help us reach this goal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Hearing: TDI Transmission Project – Vermont

Feb 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Vermont Public Service Board will be holding a public hearing on a very large scale electric transmission project proposed in Vermont.

TDI Transmission Project
Tuesday evening, February 24, 2015
7:00 pm
Fair Haven Union High School, (Band Room)
33 Mechanic Street, Fair Haven, Vermont

The project proposed by TDI is planned to go underneath Lake Champlain from the Canadian Border through to Benson, Vermont, and will then connect with existing transmission facilities in Ludlow, Vermont, to serve customers in Southern New England. You can see the full project filing here.

This is one of the largest transmission projects proposed for New England. The project is planned to carry more than 1,000 MW of power – more than is needed to power the entire state of Vermont.

Compared with many other large energy projects, the developers have done a good job to reach out to local towns and interested citizens. The project is planned to be entirely underground and/or under water. The developers are proposing to provide funding for renewable energy and for Lake Champlain clean-up as part of the project.

The Public Service Board still needs to determine that the proposed project promotes the general good of Vermont. Though connected to Vermont facilities, it is not planned to serve Vermont customers. Vermont provides the transmission highway for customers in other parts of New England.

TDI anticipates the project will deliver hydro power from Canadian facilities, but does not have any current contracts. In connection with Northern Pass, a large transmission project proposed for New Hampshire, CLF identified significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions from new large-scale hydro facilities. (See information about Northern Pass here); see information about GHG emissions from large-scale hydro facilities here).

CLF submitted comments in connection with planned federal permits for the TDI Vermont project. You can see CLF’s comments here and here.

In the comments, CLF identified some issues that deserve closer attention:

  1. Power Supply – what is the source and impacts of the power that will be delivered through this project? Will the project deliver power from fossil fuel facilities?
  2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions – What are the GHG impacts of the project? Are the emissions from new large scale hydro facilities fully and fairly evaluated?
  3. Phosphorus Pollution in Lake Champlain – The project will disrupt sediment and release phosphorus in areas that are already polluted with excess phosphorus.
  4. Mercury pollution – Emissions from power plants have deposited toxic mercury in the Lake’s sediments. The disruption of sediment can re-suspend the mercury and make it more available to harm fish and people.

As New England closes coal plants and moves toward cleaner energy supplies, it is important to ensure that new supplies meet our overall power needs and do not increase greenhouse gas emissions or harm our waterways.

New transmission projects should not provide blank checks to import pollution. Instead new projects should clearly reduce pollution impacts.

Come let the Board know what concerns you may have. Tell the Board you want to make sure energy is used wisely and that transmission projects in Vermont provide clean energy to New England.

It is important for the Public Service Board to hear from you.

 

 

Drinking Water – Too Precious to Pollute

Aug 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The tragedy this past weekend that left more than 500,000 Ohio and Michigan residents without safe drinking water shows the real dangers of polluted runoff. Toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie left drinking water with dangerous levels of microcystin. More than 100 people visited area hospitals, with upset stomachs, dizziness, and vomiting after drinking contaminated water.

The dangers of toxic algae blooms are not limited to Lake Erie. Excess nutrients – especially phosphorus – from agricultural runoff pollute Lake Champlain.

Nutrients meant to feed farm crops instead runoff into Lake Champlain where they cause excessive growth of algae and other weeds. Toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain have caused beach closings and are dangerous to people and animals. In 2012, Missisquoi Bay suffered a large fish kill as a result of particularly bad phosphorous pollution.

Blue-Green Bloom

Blue-Green Algae in Lake Champlain in 2011.

Keeping our waterways clean and healthy requires reducing runoff from farms. Earlier this summer, CLF petitioned the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to require stronger controls on agricultural runoff to protect Lake Champlain. As the situation in Ohio shows, the safety of the drinking water of thousands of Vermonters is at stake. Reducing farm pollution is manageable and necessary. In some circumstances, funding is available to assist farmers with pollution controls. Requiring improved management practices, such as fencing to keep cows and other livestock out of streams prevents direct pollution impacts. Creating buffers along streams can minimize runoff near fields. Reducing ditching and allowing water to flow more slowly cuts back on erosion after rainstorms. Careful enforcement can reduce overuse of fertilizers that feed algae instead of plants.

With nearly a quarter-million households relying on Lake Champlain for drinking water, we cannot afford to keep adding dangerous levels of phosphorus to the Lake. The experience in Lake Erie is a cautionary tale that we should heed in Vermont before it’s too late.

CLF Petition Seeks Win-Win Solutions for Agricultural Water Pollution

May 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

Yesterday, CLF filed a first-of-its-kind state law petition with the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture. The petition calls for Vermont officials to require dairy and livestock producers in the Missisquoi Bay region of Lake Champlain to implement “Best Management Practices” proven to reduce erosion and runoff of manure into area tributary waterways and the Lake itself. Agriculture is a huge part of the rural economy and cultural heritage in the region that drains to Missisquoi Bay. Sadly, pollution from agriculture is also the biggest source of phosphorous plaguing the Bay.

agricultural-water-pollution

The beautiful Missisquoi River feeds into Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay. CLF’s petition aims to protect the river and the bay from pollution that comes from poorly managed agricultural operations. Photo credit: Marcio Cabral de Moura via photopin cc

Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically rich waterscape that is home to a National Wildlife Refuge designated as a “Wetland of International Importance.” It is also ground zero for Lake Champlain’s phosphorous pollution problems. Many days the water there is safe and clean, but too often those who seek to use the Bay confront toxic blue-green algae blooms or mass fish kills. That’s why it is time for a more comprehensive, mandatory pollution control approach that requires agricultural producers to do their fair share of pollution prevention.

CLF’s petition rests on government scientific studies that identify specific agricultural operations as “critical source areas” of phosphorous discharge, i.e., those that send the most phosphorous pollution to the Lake because of the soils and slopes on which the farming is being done or the methods of farming being employed. Drawing off those scientific studies, CLF’s petition also identifies the “Best Management Practices” that should be required to reduce pollution and the loss of soils to erosion – a win-win approach considering that healthy soils are one of the most valuable assets on a farm. These include:

Vegetative Filter Strips “of grasses or other close-growing vegetation planted around fields and along drainage ways, streams and other bodies of water designed to reduce sediment, organic material, nutrients and chemicals carried in runoff by slowing the speed of water runoff, allowing contaminants to settle out.” Learn more >>

Cover Crops, like winter rye, that are planted in fields after the primary crop–most often corn–has been harvested. They “cover” the soil and hold it in place with their roots to “prevent erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles. Cover crops trap excess nutrients, keeping them from leaching into groundwater or running off into surface water, and release it later to feed growing crops.” Learn more >>

Grassed waterways, natural or constructed channels established in suitable vegetation for safe water disposal. Waterways are constructed to convey runoff from terraces, diversions, or other concentrated flow areas where erosion control is needed. Grassed waterways also improve or help protect water quality by filtering sediment and nutrients.” Learn more >>

Many agricultural producers in the areas of Vermont that send pollution to the Bay have voluntarily stepped up to the plate and are making the best management practices work for water quality and also for the bottom line of their business. But unless every “critical source area” producer is held to the same standard, Vermont is not going to make the pollution control progress it needs to restore and protect Missisquoi Bay. It’s neither fair nor effective for some agricultural producers to do all the heavy lifting for clean water while their neighboring producers sit on the sidelines and do business as usual.

Vermont officials, working with EPA, have recognized the need to do more to reduce pollution flowing to Missisquoi Bay from all sources, including agricultural producers in critical source areas. Granting CLF’s petition would be an important step in the right direction.

#ACleanLakeStartsHere

Apr 9, 2014 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Riding the single chair ski lift to 3637′ summit of General Stark’s Mountain at Mad River Glen is among my life’s great pleasures. The lift pulls you ever upward through the forest at treetop height. You sit comfortably in solitude soaking it all in. The experience imparts a sense of serenity that competes with the giddy anticipation of the long, fast descent that awaits. The best moment comes when your chair attains the elevation that affords you a sweeping panoramic view over the spine of the Green Mountains to the shimmering shores of Lake Champlain that lie beyond, stretching northward in the distance to the Canadian border. It is a compelling visual reminder that “The Lake Starts Here.”

Lake-Champlain

Watershed Perspective: Lake Champlain seen in the background from the summit of General Stark’s Mountain

When the snow melts it flows downhill into one of the many Vermont rivers that feed into Lake Champlain. These rivers and the mountains, forests, farms, and developed areas that drain into them are the Lake’s watershed. Credit for the clever hashtag #LakeStartsHere goes to our angler amigos at Lake Champlain International who are working in concert with the Vermont Ski Areas Association to raise “watershed” awareness among Vermonters and our visitors through a contest featuring photos like the one at right. The idea is to help people make connections between the snow they ski on in the winter and the water they drink, swim, fish, and boat on in the summer; as the seasons turn one becomes the other.

Watershed awareness is sorely needed at this critical moment in the history of Lake Champlain cleanup. While the Lake is a drinking water source for nearly 200,000 people and a recreation destination for thousands more, it is too often out of sight out of mind for many Vermonters who do not live in communities that touch the Lake’s shores. Yet the polluted runoff from farms, logging sites, roads, parking lots, industrial sites, downtowns, strip malls, and housing developments along with the polluted wastewater from those upstream communities all contribute to the clean water crisis (e.g., toxic blue-green algae blooms, noxious weed growth, fish kills) facing one of the nation’s largest freshwater lakes.

The Clean Water Act and Vermont’s own state water quality laws require everyone to do their part for cleanup. The laws are based on the wise premise, beautifully articulated by poet Wendell Berry, that we must do unto our downstream neighbors as we would have our upstream neighbors do unto us. At some point we all live downstream and, more importantly, we all benefit from clean water.

Fortunately, many of the pollution control measures Vermonters must undertake to clean up Lake Champlain will benefit local waterways and community bottom lines too.

  • When upstream farmers prevent manure runoff and soil erosion they not only reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing downstream to Lake Champlain, they also keep water free of harmful bacteria that can make local swimming holes unsafe and reduce sediment that clogs fish habitat.
  • When municipalities upgrade culverts and line ditches along their gravel roads they reduce erosion of phosphorus-laden sediments and also reduce the amount of money spent on road maintenance over the long term.
  • When real estate developers install “green stormwater infrastructure” at shopping plazas and housing developments, they reduce overall flows of phosphorus runoff flowing downstream to the Lake and at the same time reduce flash flooding risks in local rivers and streams caused by the artificial concentration of runoff from an overpaved landscape.
  • When ski areas maintain or restore robust buffers on high mountain streams, they minimize the local erosion hazards that result from clearing
    trails and reduce pollutants that flow downstream.

In the wake of CLF’s precedent-setting lawsuit and settlement with EPA seeking a truly effective and comprehensive cleanup framework for Lake Champlain, the administration of Governor Peter Shumlin and EPA officials are wrestling with the final details of a new plan. CLF is playing an active watchdog role to ensure that Governor Shumlin, the state legislature, and EPA officials live up to their responsibilities under our clean water laws by holding all contributing pollution sources accountable to do their part. If and when they do, we can launch a new watershed-wide photo contest: #ACleanLakeStartsHere.

CLF Works for Clean Water in a Changing Climate

Mar 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Lake-Champlain-TMDL

A deluge of rain in spring 2011 caused flooding upstream of Lake Champlain. Extreme weather and damaging floods are not the only downside of Vermont’s changing climate. Mud-brown flood waters flowing to Lake Champlain also increase the loading of nutrient pollution that can cause toxic blue-green algae blooms and noxious weed growth.

The damaging floods of spring 2011 followed by Tropical Storm Irene in late summer awakened many Vermonters to the connection between climate change and extreme precipitation. But well before the “watershed moment” that was 2011, CLF’s Vermont Advocacy Center was pushing policymakers to connect the dots between our clean water challenges and the changing climate. Thanks in part to CLF’s efforts, Vermont is now poised to play a leadership role in the national climate change conversation around strategies to secure the natural resource we literally cannot live without: clean water.

CLF has worked for years to ensure that enforceable measures are put in place to clean up Lake Champlain, which has been heavily impaired by nutrient pollution. This pollution causes toxic blue-green algae blooms and noxious weed growth that make the water unsafe or unpleasant for swimming, fishing, and boating, and has led to massive fish die-offs in some parts of the lake.

In 2002, EPA approved a framework created by Vermont officials for cleaning up nutrient pollution in the lake, but it failed to take into account the growing scientific consensus that our climate is changing. In 2008, CLF sued EPA, under the Clean Water Act, to reopen this framework and revise it to include consideration of climate change. Specifically, CLF cited government studies such as the 2008 EPA National Water Program strategy document titled “Response to Climate Change.” It concluded that the climate chaos we are causing with our greenhouse gas pollution will “alter the hydrological cycle, especially characteristics of precipitation (amount, frequency, intensity, duration, type) and extremes.” The report also made a range of predictions that ring true in Vermont’s recent experience of the changing climate:

• “[w]ater-borne diseases and degraded water quality are very likely to increase with more heavy precipitation”;

• potential increases in heavy precipitation, with expanding impervious surfaces, could increase urban flood risks and create additional design challenges and costs for stormwater management”;

• flooding can affect water quality, as large volumes of water can transport contaminants into waterbodies and also overload storm and wastewater systems.

CLF and EPA ultimately settled the case, with EPA subsequently agreeing to redo the Lake Champlain cleanup framework to account for the ways in which Vermont will have to adapt our pollution-control efforts to a world in which heavy precipitation and flooding are increasingly the norm for New England. CLF’s success in the case has since been cited as a national model (e.g., “Using Legal Tools to Protect Lakes and Rivers from Climate Impacts“) and one CLF is working to replicate as it fights for clean water solutions on Cape Cod.

Now, CLF is actively participating in the new Lake Champlain Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process to ensure that both EPA and Vermont officials succeed in finding a way to secure enough clean water in a changing climate, both because the job is imperative for Vermont’s future and because the lessons we learn here can apply elsewhere in New England and the nation. Fortunately, EPA is bringing some cutting-edge, forward-looking science to the table. For example, EPA has produced a report titled Projected Changes in Phosphorus Loads Due to Climate Change. It is helping Vermont policymakers plan for the added challenges that climate change presents to our ongoing pollution-control efforts. EPA is also working on a second report that will help regulators understand which on-the-ground pollution control measures are most likely to succeed when tested by extreme precipitation  like that we’ve seen recently and can expect more of as climate change worsens.

State officials are also recognizing the need to revisit regulatory standards applicable to developed areas that are the source of polluted runoff and increased flooding risks. CLF is an active stakeholder in the process of updating the state’s official Stormwater Management Manual. One key aim is to ensure that design standards match up with the scale of the extreme weather events we are witnessing. Moreover, CLF is advocating for pollution-control approaches that emphasize “Low Impact Design” and “Green Infrastructure.” These development techniques seek to preserve and/or mimic the natural landscape’s ability to soak up precipitation rather than concentrating its flow into destructive, heavily polluted volumes.

Since Vermont has been thrust into the forefront of states wrestling with this complicated issue, President Obama named Governor Peter Shumlin to his White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resiliency. Recognizing CLF’s leadership role in this effort, Governor Shumlin has tapped CLF advocates to join other Vermont experts in crafting climate-resilience recommendations to the White House Task Force.

The challenge of achieving clean water in a changing climate is a daunting one. First and foremost, we must do all we can to reduce climate-change pollution, thereby avoiding making the problem worse. In Vermont and throughout New England, CLF is fighting hard for clean energy solutions. At the same time, and with your continued support, CLF is helping Vermont lead the way toward water-pollution control measures that can stand up to the worst climate change has to offer.

CLF Settlement Maintains Momentum on Stream Cleanup

Oct 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

For more than a decade, CLF has worked to secure the Clean Water Act’s promise of water quality that supports healthy fish populations and is safe for recreation in all the degraded urban streams flowing to Lake Champlain. A new CLF settlement with Vermont environmental regulators helps continue the momentum toward fulfillment of that promise.

Several years ago, CLF won a series of court cases that resulted in Vermont adopting pollution reduction targets for urban streams afflicted with an excess of fouled runoff. Some of that polluted runoff comes from the network of storm sewers and pipes owned by cities and towns. The runoff in these “municipal separate storm sewer systems” can contain a range of harmful pollutants including:

  • sediment
  • road salt
  • oil slicks (those toxic rainbow slicks left behind by leaking cars)
  • toxic metals
  • bacteria (from animal waste)
  • heat (think of how hot pavement gets in the summer–that heat transfers into rainwater coursing over blacktop)
  • phosphorous (the key culprit in causing algae blooms in Lake Champlain)

In addition, these storm sewers are often too efficient at clearing rainwater and snowmelt from paved surfaces.  The result can be flash flooding in streams swollen by unusually heavy flows caused by our artificial manipulation of the natural landscape’s drainage.

stream-cleanup

Green Infrastructure helps soak up precipitation and filter out pollutants running off paved surfaces. As an added bonus, these pollution control measures make urban environments look nicer and can help mitigate flash flooding. Photo Credit: Vermont Agency of Natural Resources

 

Scientists who developed the pollution reduction targets for Vermont’s urban streams have determined that there is a strong link between the overall amount of runoff being discharged and the amount of pollution reaching streams. The solution is to slow the flow and allow more precipitation to soak into the ground rather than run off paved surfaces.  When placed in enough locations throughout our built landscape, “Green Infrastructure” such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and constructed wetlands can restore the land’s natural ability to soak up precipitation and filter out pollutants before they reach streams.

Earlier this year, CLF challenged the permit regulating discharges of polluted runoff from numerous municipal storm sewers throughout Vermont. The permit is one of the main mechanisms for translating runoff reduction targets into on-the-ground pollution control measures like green infrastructure. Under the challenged permit, each polluting municipality designs its own cleanup plan, determining which pollution control measures to deploy and where to deploy them so as to achieve maximum runoff reduction. Unfortunately, the final version of the permit gave polluting municipalities up to twenty years to clean up their acts and also prevented meaningful public review of the cleanup plans each polluting city and town was devising for itself.

In response to these flaws, CLF challenged the permit. Fortunately, after extended settlement negotiations, Vermont environmental officials agreed that the permit needed fixing to ensure timely, transparent, and accountable cleanup efforts by each regulated city and town. The parties devised a settlement that addresses the flaws in the original permit related to the timing and transparency of the cleanup plans. First, Vermont officials have agreed that each municipality’s proposed cleanup plan will be subject to public notice and comment before agency approval, creating an opportunity for citizens to appeal any inadequate cleanup plans to the Environmental Court. Second, Vermont officials agreed to rescind the blanket twenty-year timeframe for cleanup plan completion contained in the original permit. Instead, Vermont regulators will make an individualized decision about the appropriateness of a schedule of compliance for each plan; those decisions will also be subject to public notice, comment, and appeal when necessary. The settlement maintains momentum in the restoration process for these streams and restores bedrock procedural public participation safeguards that are hallmarks of the Clean Water Act.

Vermont Recommits to the Clean Water Act

Jul 19, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Yesterday, EPA sent Vermont’s clean water agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, a Clean Water Act “Corrective Action Plan,” outlining permitting and enforcement improvements and updates the state has made or needs to make to ensure that the state provides all the protections required by law to its citizens and the waters they have a right to use and enjoy. This marks a major milestone in CLF’s long-running efforts to secure clean water for all Vermonters.

The federal Clean Water Act is one of the most important and successful laws our nation ever enacted. Before its passage more than 40 years ago, massive volumes of raw sewage and industrial wastes flowed freely into our lakes and rivers. Polluters responsible for this mess faced little in the way of meaningful consequences. The patchwork of state permitting and enforcement programs Americans relied on to keep our waters safe and clean simply had too many holes in it.

The law’s passage reflected a national commitment to restoring and protecting all of our nation’s waters, ensuring that they are safe for drinking, fishing, swimming, and boating, with water quality that also supports healthy populations of fish and shellfish. It established a national goal of eliminating water pollution. As important as this law is, its effectiveness depends on its faithful execution by political appointees and career professional regulators at EPA and partner state clean water agencies like Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

In 2008, CLF acted on its longstanding concerns that Vermont’s waters were suffering from excessive pollution in part because state officials were falling far short of fulfilling all of their Clean Water Act responsibilities. CLF, with tremendous assistance from its able pro-bono counsel from the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Legal Clinic,  petitioned EPA to order significant improvements in Vermont’s water pollution control permitting and enforcement efforts. If Vermont officials failed to make needed improvements, CLF asked EPA to take over the lead in issuing permits and enforcing against polluters in Vermont.

After several years of investigation by EPA and negotiations with state officials, the Corrective Action Plan EPA issued represents a validation of CLF’s core concerns. It also represents a positive re-commitment to the Clean Water Act by the administration of Governor Peter Shumlin. Among the positive corrective actions Vermont has taken or will take to better control pollution per the EPA plan are:

  • The final issuance of the state’s first ever permit to control pollution discharges from “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”—animal feedlot operations meeting certain regulatory criteria—in a manner that complies with the Clean Water Act.
  • Commitments to increase annual inspections of actual and suspected “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” to detect unlawful pollution discharges and ensure that CAFO dischargers apply for and comply with Clean Water Act permits.
  • Changes to state law allowing citizens to have a voice in the resolution of Clean Water Act enforcement proceedings.
  • A plan for limiting the amount of nutrients discharged by municipal wastewater treatment plants into the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound.
  • Enforcement against the Village of Waterbury sewage treatment plant that will significantly reduce one of the largest single phosphorous discharges into Lake Champlain through installation of state-of-the-art technology
  • Conforming the state’s policy relating to the use of polluter’s penalty payments to EPA’s requirement
  • Implementing a requirement of the Clean Water Act to prevent the degradation of existing high quality waters

The declining health of Lake Champlain and numerous other Vermont waterways underscores how far we. By implementing all of the Corrective Actions outlined above, Vermont is taking an important step in the right direction toward clean water solutions. Vermonters’ quality of life, economic vitality, and maintenance of our state’s green “brand” requires nothing less.

Growing Our Food Without Poisoning the Water: VT Issues Important New Draft Permit

Feb 28, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

A manure spreader overloads a St. Albans farm field with manure resulting in a direct discharge to Lake Champlain in 2007.

CLF is committed to protecting clean water AND to supporting a healthy farming economy in Vermont and throughout New England (read more about our food and farm work here). At CLF we know we Vermonters can grow our food without poisoning our water.  We have no choice if we are going to achieve a thriving New England for generations to come.

That’s why CLF has worked so hard to get Vermont officials to admit that intensive dairy operations and other types of industrial farming that confine large numbers of animals in small spaces needed to obtain Clean Water Act permits for discharges of manure and other pollution into waters of the state. Vermont is one of the last states, and in fact may be the last state to issue a permit to minimize and eventually eliminate these discharges from “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs) under the Clean Water Act.

In 2008, CLF issued a detailed report titled Failing our Waters, Failing our Farms: Vermont Regulators Turn A Blind Eye to Threat of Illegal Pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” The report relied on years of agency inspection documents showing numerous cases of manure and other discharges that clearly violated the Clean Water Act. CLF’s report called for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the state regulators who run the federal Clean Water Act program in Vermont, to begin requiring polluting operations to obtain Clean Water Act permits.

Sadly, CLF’s call to action went unheeded, and cases of unchecked CAFO pollution continued, resulting in contamination of Lake Champlain and other lakes, rivers, and streams throughout Vermont. Particularly, agricultural discharges can result in harmful bacteria outbreaks and in the explosive growth of harmful blue-green algae that can make water unsafe for swimming, fishing, boating, and drinking.

When state officials failed to act, CLF, with pro bono representation from Vermont Law School’s Environment and Natural Resources Clinic, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over Clean Water Act permitting because it was clear that Vermont officials lacked the political will to adequately deal with a major group of polluters in a manner consistent with the nation’s landmark clean water law. EPA officials took CLF’s allegations seriously. Though Vermont officials initially resisted acceptance of this core water protection obligation, the last couple years have seen breakthroughs in the negotiation over the petition which in part resulted in the issuance of today’s long-awaited draft permit as well as forthcoming commitments by the state and EPA to dedicate more resources to CAFO inspection and enforcement.

CLF applauds Governor Shumlin, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, and Department of Environmental Conservation Commission David Mears for showing the leadership to have Vermont at last embrace this important Clean Water Act obligation. Though the issuance of a draft permit is merely a small step in the right direction–CLF hopes it is a clear signal that Vermont may be ready to stop backpedaling when it comes to protecting lakes, rivers, and streams from this serious source of pollution.

CLF looks forward to examining this draft carefully and to filing comments to ensure that the permit contains all of the protections the law requires. I urge all who care about water that is safe for swimming, fishing, boating, and drinking and that supports fish and other wildlife, to examine the Draft Permit (available from the Agency’s web site here) and to send comments supporting its final adoption. There is no doubt that the powerful interests of Big Agriculture will continue to fight this positive step forward, even though many other farmers are welcoming the opportunity to be better stewards of our shared water resources.

 

Page 1 of 3123
Emsisoft Anti-Malware