UPDATE on long term funding for Clean Water Projects
Federal EPA Requirements
Vermont is required to fund $2.3 billion over the next 20 years to comply with federal pollution reduction orders for Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog and other water bodies in the state. Since the 2015 passage of Act 64, Vermont’s Clean Water Act, the state has used short-term sources — such as appropriations from the capital bill — for the majority of its share of the funding. Going forward, Vermont is obligated to identify a stable, long term clean water funding source.
Governor’s Budget Plan for Long Term Funding
In his budget address, Governor Scott laid out a proposal to use a portion of the estate tax for clean water funding, (while also reducing the number of individuals who would be subject to paying the estate tax). His plan also included using some general fund money generated from the property transfer tax, and other sources. Next year, as an example, the budget calls for a total of $48 million for clean water efforts, including management of the state’s 7,000 miles of dirt roads and on-farm water quality projects. That total includes more than $19 million in federal funds.
Preliminary Legislative Reaction
Legislative leaders have expressed concern about diverting revenue from the general fund and creating a funding gap for other state priorities, as well as the volatility/variability of the estate tax.
As an alternative, the Vermont Senate Natural Resources Committee will soon be voting on a clean water funding bill that would contain a combination of a per parcel fee and an impervious surface fee.
Advocates Weigh In
The Vermont Water Caucus, (including the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Conservation Voters, Audubon Vermont, Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club, Lake Champlain Committee, The Nature Conservancy in Vermont, Connecticut River Conservancy, Watersheds United Vermont, and Conservation Law Foundation.) developed a series of principles to apply to any long-term funding sources.
• Funding sources must be stable and sufficient to meet Vermont’s needs.
• Funding sources must be stable, predictable and reliable from year to year, to support ongoing, consistent clean water protection and restoration efforts.
• Funding must be flexible in terms of its use, to meet the full and evolving scope of clean water needs across the state.
• Funding must restore our degraded waters and also protect our river and lakes from future degradation.
• Funding sources must minimize negative economic impacts on lower-income Vermonters, who already bear a disproportionate burden of the consequences of contaminated water.
Federal EPA’s Reaction to the Governors Funding Plan
The federal Environmental Protection Agency gave its preliminary approval February 11 to the plan from the Scott administration to fund clean water projects with existing revenues and create regional districts to implement projects, calling it a “sensible framework” that meets the state’s obligations to provide a long-term source for clean water funding.