Cleaning Up Vermont’s Lakes, Rivers, Streams, and Drinking Water
With so much distressing national and international news, I want to offer a quick reprieve with good news here in VT.
During the 2019 legislative session, we made significant progress cleaning up Vermont's water. Three new laws will clean up both natural waters like lakes and streams, and drinking water supplies.
1. Lead-free Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities. This year we implemented the strongest school-based lead standards in the U.S. while requiring every school and child care facility in Vermont to test for lead in its drinking water and do something about it when needed. This is a substantial public health initiative, and when all districts have complied we'll have a healthy baseline at every school and child care facility in Vermont so all parents can be confident their kids are in a healthy environment. The results of all testing is publicly available at the Department of Health’s website.
Since the law passed, testing has turned up elevated lead levels in some drinking sources, and the schools and child care operators are immediately fixing the problems. When we passed the law we knew we'd be confronting results like this across the state. In fact, we passed it because we knew we'd see results like this. Our job is to keep people safe, and to be transparent in doing so. I'm glad we rejected the arguments of those who thought we should not require this testing and remediation. I was a lead sponsor of the bill, and was joined by fellow Chittenden Senator Phil Baruth as well as Shelburne’s Representative, Kate Webb, in getting it to the finish line.
2. Long-term Funding Source to Clean Up Vermont's Lakes, Rivers and Streams. Decades of poor management of our lakes and other waters has us digging out from the pollution that's developed. The last few years we've approximately doubled the amount of money to do remediation projects on farms, roadways, etc. And this year we achieved what had eluded previous Legislatures and Governors - we established a substantial ongoing source of money to address this problem, while significantly improving the investment strategy to make sure every dollar spent has more positive impact. Unfortunately, many of the investments that will clean up our waters won't produce immediate results or prevent near-term beach closures from time to time. The EPA has affirmed our policies. We all need to gird ourselves for years of sustained, hard work to get our waters where they should be. Vermont ignored this problem for too long. The good news is the current legislature has put in place the funds and strategy to turn things around.
3. Testing Public Drinking Water Sources for Dangerous PFAS Chemicals. The only thing worse than paying to clean up contaminated drinking water sources is not knowing the water is contaminated. That's why the VT Senate and House passed some of the strongest legislation in the U.S. to test and remediate drinking water supplies for PFAS chemicals. PFAS chemicals are industrial inputs that damage the human body if ingested. The EPA says they can lead to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption. Bennington was the first community to confront these chemicals in drinking water, but we knew more communities may have troubling PFAS levels in their water. In fact, because of the law, residents of three towns discovered they're ingesting worrying levels of chemicals out of their taps. More communities will follow. As hard as the news is, we're better for the knowledge.
We've certainly got more work to do, but at this terrible political moment in our country I think it's important to recognize when elected officials actually do come together to address public problems.
As always, feel free to contact me with any question, comments, or ideas. And happy new year!
President Pro Tempore of the Senate