Vermont Business Leaders Join Call For Clean Water Funding Plan

Jan 22, 2018

Environmental advocates aren’t the only voices pressuring Montpelier to come up with a long-term funding mechanism for water quality projects. Members of the state's business community are also joining the call.

Vermont will have to spend about $2 billion over the next 20 years to comply with state and federal water quality regulations, but elected officials have yet to institute a long-term funding source to pay for all that work.

An unlikely alliance is now trying to turn up the political pressure on lawmakers and the governor to pass a financing plan.

At a press conference in the Statehouse last week, Tom Torti, president and CEO of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Jon Groveman, policy and water program director with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, stood together at a podium to call for a per-parcel fee on every property owner in the state to fund the water quality effort.

“We have not figured out a way to get to cleaner water faster because we’ve allowed the polarization and the demagoguery to get in the way,” Torti said.

Environmental advocates and business leaders are often at odds with each other when it comes to regulations around water quality issues. Torti said that’s one of the reasons clean water funding has been so elusive.

"We have not figured out a way to get to cleaner water faster because we’ve allowed the polarization and the demagoguery to get in the way." — Tom Torti, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce

That business leaders are joining with environmental groups to call for the adoption of a financing plan, Torti said, should underscore to lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott how vital it is they pass a long-term funding proposal in 2018.

“We are very proud and pleased to stand with a cast of characters that 10, 15, 20 years ago you would never have seen standing together, to put something forward that we believe is monumental in the history of Vermont,” Torti said.

The per-parcel fee is just one component of the plan. The coalition — which includes municipal, environmental and business leaders — is also calling for the creation of an independent authority to administer the fee and distribute the revenue to eligible projects.

The per-parcel fee concept has faced resistance from Scott, a Republican, and GOP leaders in the House and Senate. Some House and Senate Democrats have also raised concerns.

Ernie Pomerleau, with Pomerleau Real Estate, said he and other businesspeople will be trying to get elected officials to rethink their opposition.

"I don't want to pay any fees either. But it's no longer the state's choice." — Ernie Pomerleau, Pomerleau Real Estate

Pomerleau said Vermont is now required under state and federal law to move forward with costly clean water retrofits.

“So it’s not if we’re going to be assessed, it’s how and when,” Pomerleau said.

Pomerleau, a self-described Republican, said that without a broad-based revenue mechanism in place for clean water funding, the burden of paying for that work will fall squarely on businesses.

“So my position is very clear: with my Republican colleagues, let us work together holistically,” Pomerleau said. “I don’t want to pay any fees either. But it’s no longer the state’s choice.”

House and Senate lawmakers have already introduced legislation that would create a clean water authority to institute a per-parcel fee. Several prominent lawmakers have thrown their support behind the plan, but other legislative leaders say they worry the per-parcel framework would come with inordinately high administrative costs.

Disclosure: Vermont Natural Resources Council is a VPR underwriter.