New ANR leader commits to lake cleanup
ST. ALBANS — The appointment of Julie Moore to head the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) indicates how seriously Governor-elect Phil Scott is about cleaning up Lake Champlain.
At least that’s how Moore says she feels about the announcement made last week placing her at the top of the state agency.
Moore, the former head of the Center for Clean and Clear, was charged with overseeing efforts to reduce phosphorous pollution in the lake during the administration of Gov. Jim Douglas. Since then she has continued to be deeply involved with lake cleanup while on the staff of Stone Environmental, including the 2011 analysis critical source areas in the Missisquoi River basin, a study of methods for reducing phosphorous in tile drainage, and working with municipalities to identify sources of stormwater pollution.
When it comes to clean water, Moore’s first task will be working with the legislature and the rest of the administration to find funding for clean water projects. When the legislature approved the Clean Water Act in 2015, it did so with a temporary source of funding. During the next session, lawmakers will have to take up finding a more permanent source of funds.
“I think it’s going to have to be one of the biggest revenue discussions,” said Moore. She added that Scott is willing to discuss the possibility of taking out clean water bonds to pay for the work, provided they wouldn’t have a negative impact on the state’s bond rating.
There will not be a major change of direction in how the state goes about addressing water pollution under Moore’s leadership, at least not in the first few years. During the Shumlin administration, the state submitted a plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement pollution limits in the lake, known as the TMDL or Total Maximum Daily Load.
“That’s the path we’re committed to in the near term,” said Moore.
Under the TMDL, once the initial requirements are met in 2017 and 2018, primarily the establishment of educational and permit programs and the crafting of new regulations, the cleanup plan will shift to individual plans for each basin.
Moore said that planning has become more detailed and refined. “It’s a much different approach than I was there six or seven years ago,” she said.
During her time in the Douglas administration, Moore was often in the hot seat, the ranking government official at public meetings with angry, frustrated citizens. Those experiences taught her “how important it is to listen, really listen to people’s concerns,” Moore said, and to let them know those concerns are understood.
Farmers across the state have been expressing frustration at the new Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) intended to reduce the impact of agriculture, especially conventional dairy, on water.
“The partnership between ANR and the Ag. Dept. is absolutely crucial,” said Moore.
Agriculture and the environment are “not an either/or,” said Moore. She is interested in “looking for ways to support farmers and our clean environment.”
“In the case of Vermont, our environment is our economy,” said Moore, pointing to the role that outdoor recreation plays in bringing tourists to Vermont.
“We live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” Moore said. When it was pointed out that she is now charged with conserving that place, Moore replied, “I have a fantastic team of stewards.”
ANR employs approximately 600 people in three departments. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) gets the most attention as it is charged with regulating water, stormwater, pollution, and solid waste. The other two departments, Fish and Wildlife and Forest and Parks, are focused more on stewardship and management of state resources, said Moore.
Lake Champlain will not be the only priority for Moore’s agency. Bennington and North Bennington have been struggling with a different kind of water pollution – contamination of drinking water by the industrial acid PFOA, which is known to cause cancer. Moore said the agency will remain actively engaged in addressing the problem.
There is also the ongoing implementation of Act 148, Vermont’s universal recycling bill, which is growing more complex as more waste is scheduled for diversion from landfills.
Another focus will be resiliency, the ability of the environment to withstand climate change, according to Moore. Climate change has been bringing more frequent, intense rainstorms to Vermont over the last couple of decades. There is also the possibility of more droughts, she explained.
For example, the ability of rivers and the landscape to absorb large amounts of rainfall in a short period of time is a hallmark of resiliency. But to do that, rivers need access to floodplains. Since Tropical Storm Irene destroyed roads, homes, and businesses across a wide portion of the state, ANR and other agencies have been emphasizing the importance of restoring floodplains.
However, not all communities appear to be listening, and many municipalities have not done the planning and regulatory work necessary to protect or reestablish the connections between rivers and floodplains.
Moore acknowledged that the response has been strongest in communities hit by Irene. There is “room to grow and improve and adapt throughout the state,” she said.
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