EPA Head Says New Governor May Repair Relationship

12/06/10 7:34AM By John Dillon
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Curt Spalding
(Host) The regional head of the Environmental Protection Agency says the change in leadership in Montpelier provides an opportunity to repair the agency's sometimes fractious relationship with Vermont.

VPR's John Dillon sat down recently with regional administrator, Curt Spalding, and has this report.

(Dillon) The EPA and the Douglas administration have clashed repeatedly over clean-up plans for Lake Champlain and a new highway planned for Chittenden County.

The EPA's Curt Spalding says he hopes the tone will improve with the incoming administration of Governor-elect Peter Shumlin.

(Spalding) "So I'm looking forward to that conversation. I was surprised when I came into office a year ago that there are all these issues with Vermont. Because as someone who has come to Vermont since I was 3 years old. It's one of my favorite places.  I never knew. So I'm very hopeful with new leadership, a re-set is possible."

(Dillon) The latest flare-up came over the Circumferential Highway, a road planned to loop around Burlington's suburbs.

The EPA says the route preferred by the Douglas administration - and supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - would cause unacceptable damage to nearby wetlands and streams.

In a strongly worded letter last month, Spalding said the road as planned would be too environmentally harmful to receive a federal permit.

Governor Jim Douglas was not pleased.

(Douglas) "The recommendation is wrong. Everybody agrees this is the right thing to do and yet special interest groups and now some federal bureaucrats are saying something different."

(Dillon) But Spalding says the project may not be worth the price to the environment or to the taxpayers. He says the agency didn't reach the decision lightly. Before he issued his critical letter last month, Spalding came to Vermont to study the highway and the environmental impacts of the new road.

(Spalding) "And those impacts would be very, very substantial, secondary impacts in the hundreds of acres. We think you could work with the existing Route 2 and do the things you need to do and not have such a substantial impact. And I do point out that the cost is very substantial, too. You know, $50 million is, as I understand the situation, impact without mitigation. That's a lot of money."

(Dillon) Spalding says it's both cheaper and better for the environment to improve existing roads in the area.

Despite the disagreements with the Douglas administration, Spalding says the relationship with Vermont is smooth compared with some other states, such as Texas. He says Vermont has a strong awareness of environmental issues that's reflected in the state's policies.

(Spalding) "I keep coming back to the fact that there are 50 other things that Vermont's doing that we appreciate them doing. And it goes for the outgoing governor. We know him to be, and most in Vermont know him to be, someone who cares a lot about the land and environment of Vermont."

(Dillon) On the Circ Highway, Spalding says the next move is up to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is reviewing the wetlands permit under the Clean Water Act. Federal law gives EPA veto authority over the Corps decision.

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


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