Vermont falls short in EPA plan for Lake Champlain cleanup
Vermont is likely to receive a failing grade from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not implementing the final step of its Lake Champlain cleanup plan by Sept. 4 — a deadline that Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Peter Walke says is “not feasible” for the state.
In a letter to Walke on June 25, EPA Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel wrote that if the state does not issue its proposed three-acre general permit — the final milestone in the first phase of its Lake Champlain phosphorus reduction plan — by Sept. 4, it will receive a failing grade from the agency.
Deziel wrote that failure to issue the permit, which has been drafted by the state, “puts ultimate achievement of the Lake’s water quality goals in jeopardy.”
Following the passage of Act 64, Vermont’s Clean Water Act, the EPA issued an order in 2016 mandating new phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Champlain called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). In April 2018, the agency gave the state a “provisional pass” for its TMDL phase one compliance, as it had achieved all but three of 28 milestones.
Two years later, though, the state has failed to implement the final goal it agreed to: A stormwater runoff permit program requiring retrofits for properties with three or more acres of impervious surfaces.
Walke said the general permit is ready, but the program lacks funding.
“The larger picture issues are associated with just making sure that we can have an effective program,” he said. “We’ve talked for a while about developing funding and financing packages for private entities to be able to help support this work because they’re costly retrofits.
“We want to make sure that we’re actually getting compliance with the new programs rather than having a paper permit out there that actually isn’t accomplishing results on the ground,” he added.
Walke said the permit is unlikely to be issued until after the Legislature convenes again.
“That’s a deadline that they sent without really working with us to see what was feasible, in terms of a timeline,” he said. “And so I do not anticipate that we will be able to meet that timeline. If we’re going to need to have a conversation with the Legislature, they’re not coming back until the very end of August, so the ability to meet a September 4 deadline is just not feasible.”
Environmental advocate James Ehlers, who ran for governor in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, said the delay is “unsurprising.”
“When you have a governor that prioritizes private profit and development over public health and environmental protection, this is what you get,” Ehlers said.
Deziel wrote in his letter that when the EPA completes its final review in September, the agency will consider taking steps to require expensive wastewater treatment plant upgrades and “increased federal enforcement” — if the state hasn’t completed the three-acre permit by the deadline.
Ehlers said he isn’t counting on federal action.
“This is all kabuki theater in my mind — these letters going back and forth,” he said. “And the end outcome is that our waterways and our lake are getting more degraded and impaired every day.”
Zack Porter, the Lake Champlain lakekeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation, said that the state needs “to find creative solutions” for funding “rather than kicking this one down the road.”
“This is an obligation and the lake and the people of Vermont can’t wait for this work to move forward,” he said. “We need to find the revenue and the dollars to make this possible. Clean water is an essential service.”
This past Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, saw almost 60 people converge upon the 1,400-square-foot … (read more)
Two state lawmakers are urging Addison County folks not to ease up on efforts to battle cl … (read more)