Ernie Pomerleau, Tom Torti, Jon Groveman and Dominic Cloud
A Friday morning Statehouse press conference brought together a disparate group of people to call for legislative action on Vermont water quality.
The event included environmental advocates, municipal leaders and two of the most well-connected members of the Vermont business community. They were there to declare unified support for creation of a state Clean Water Authority and establishment of a per-parcel fee to fund water cleanup efforts that have been mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
They stressed the need for a nonpolitical, independent, expert panel to manage a long-term cleanup program.
In the past, "We've allowed the polarization and the demagoguery to get in the way," said Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. "We are very proud and pleased to stand here with a cast of characters that, 10, 15, 20 years ago you would never see standing together, to put something forward that we think is monumental in the history of Vermont."
The groups say they have been working quietly for months to build a coalition that could convince the legislature and governor to create the fee and the authority during the 2018 session.
"The time for study is over," said Jon Groveman, policy and water program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. "The time for action is now."
Their proposal does not include a specific number for the per-parcel fee. The first step, they said, is creating the Clean Water Authority — which would come back to the legislature in 2019 with a specific fee plan. They offered a broad guesstimate that it would be in the $50- to $100-per-year range for a typical household.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns had released a study indicating that a per-parcel fee would bring high administrative costs. But Friday, St. Albans city manager Dominic Cloud, the president of VLCT, spoke in favor of such a fee. He explained that the study considered two collecting authorities: municipalities and the state tax department. He said a new, independent authority could devise a less costly collection method.
Business leaders will bear a particular burden in this effort, given their support for the notoriously anti-new-tax Gov. Phil Scott.
"I work closely with Phil," said Ernie Pomerleau of Burlington-based Pomerleau Real Estate. "I'm a Republican. I understand 'no fees, no taxes.' I don't want to pay a fee. But it's not if we'll be assessed; it's how and when."
The assembled advocates are supporting S.260 and H.564, which include the two core provisions — a clean water authority and a per-parcel fee. Those bills do not specify that the authority would collect the fee; the advocates are calling for that method to be included in the legislation.