Lawmakers work to strengthen environmental enforcement

03/13/08 5:00PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Lawmakers are working to strengthen Vermont's environmental enforcement law.

The legislation would allow the public to have a say before the state settles cases with polluters.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Kim Greenwood is a staff scientist at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group.

But Greenwood used to work at the Agency of Natural Resources. In that job, she said she got a clear message from the state.

(Greenwood) Years ago when I inquired about a violation that I observed about an operational stormwater permit, I was told flat-out that we do not enforce against stormwater permits.

(Dillon) Greenwood says that lax enforcement is still a problem. She just finished a study that found the A-N-R failed to enforce water quality laws designed to prevent sediment from washing into rivers and streams.

The legislation raises fines for violations. The bill also allows the public to get involved before cases are settled. The Agency of Natural Resources and various industry groups are opposed to the public involvement provisions. Joe Choquette is with the Vermont Petroleum Association.

(Choquette) Putting provisions that allow the assurances to be open to the public would cause more legal wrangling and not lead to many favorable results for the environment and the regulated community.

(Dillon) Gary Kessler is an enforcement attorney with the agency. He says allowing the public to have a say before an enforcement case is settled would slow down the process and possibly delay clean-up action.

(Kessler) The matter would go automatically to a judge, who would have to have a hearing. There are no standards for what would happen at the hearing. So we wouldn't know what kind of evidence we had to put on. I don't think the judges would know what to do after the hearing. There's nothing telling them what their role in is, other than they have to have a hearing..

(Dillon) But Anthony Iarrapino of the Conservation Law Foundation said the Environmental Protection follows a similar public involvement process before it settles cases with polluters.

(Iarrapino) I think it actually helps the agency because when they're negotiating with a polluter they can say to them look if this is not going to pass the laugh test with the public we're going to have trouble getting a judge to accept this.

(Dillon) The House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee is set to vote on the bill soon.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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