Lake Champlain Clean Up Stirs Feud With EPA

03/15/10 5:50PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and the US Environmental Protection Agency are feuding over the future of Lake Champlain.

The disagreement is just the latest in an increasingly testy relationship between the Douglas administration and the EPA.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) First, the administration was not pleased when the federal agency called on towns along the Connecticut River to do more to stop sewage pollution from flowing downstream to Long Island Sound.

Then, the EPA allowed a Massachusetts company to ship contaminated soil to a Moretown landfill. Again, the administration cried foul.

So when the EPA said that the state's Lake Champlain clean up plan appears to be inadequate, Governor Douglas was ready with a quick come-back.

(Douglas) "Well, that's the same EPA that recently said it's okay to send 31,000 tons of dioxin filled soil from Massachusetts to our landfill in Moretown. So I think to be perfectly honest the credibility of the EPA regional office in Boston is called into question right now."

(Dillon) The EPA's action on the lake has to do with phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus comes from sewage treatment plants, run off from development, and cow manure from farms. It acts as a fertilizer for the algae blooms that plague the big lake.

Douglas says the EPA had praised the 2002 lake clean up plan, but now seems ready to scrap it.

(Douglas) "I don't understand it, and we're going to do everything we can to persuade them that we're doing a good job."

(Dillon) But despite years of work - and $100 million invested - the lake is still not clean and phosphorus levels remain too high.

The 2002 document sets up a pollution budget for the lake based on what was known at the time about phosphorus loads. The EPA says the plan uses data from 1991 - and that the years since have been wetter. More rain equals more phosphorus flowing into the lake. So the agency says it makes sense to examine the underlying assumptions to see if additional pollution controls are needed.

Chris Kilian, director the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation, agrees.

(Kilian) "It's totally appropriate and reasonable to reconsider any plan for dealing with a pollution problem when you learn more information. And that's what EPA is proposing to do here."

(Dillon) But the Douglas administration has an ally in the Vermont House, where Putney Democrat David Deen chairs the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee. He says the EPA decision to reexamine the clean up plan - it's called a TMDL - will create more work for the state with little to show for it.

(Deen) "It will be a minimum of two to three year to put a new TMDL in place. What do we do in the meantime? For us, we're going to act like we don't care what EPA does. The legislature is going to move forward. We're committed to cleaning up Lake Champlain, and doing it now."

(Dillon) But Kilian of the Conservation law Foundation says there's much more the state could be doing now. He says the Douglas administration is not using available federal funds to reduce phosphorus from sewage treatment plants.

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

 

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