Friday, April 4, 2008

Vermont looking to restrict Wekepeke-style projects

I was going to write about a little bit of movement in the Wekepeke discussion between Sterling and Clinton, but the most pertinent information and quotes come from this week’s Landmark and I’ll be damned if I’m going to fork over $37 for a subscription so that I don’t have to wait a week to read that paper.

(Earth to Landmark: every newspaper around posts it’s current news for free, including weeklies like the Times and Courier, the Item, and the Leominster Champion and Fitchburg Pride...which are both owned by the Landmark. It’s time to keep up with the Joneses. Further, since you mailed this week’s issue to everyone in an effort to gain subscriptions, you should at least make this week’s issue available for free online to be consistent. But I digress.)

So, here’s a little item from yesterday’s Globe about a bill in Vermont’s legislature to restrict commercial water pumping on a state-wide basis:
The Senate has passed, and the House panel is soon to take up, legislation that would declare the ground water under Vermont a public trust.

That's a legal doctrine that the legislation's backers say could provide protections for the state's underground aquifers essentially by restricting individual users from sucking them dry...

As passed by the Senate, the bill:
  • Declares Vermont's ground water to be a public trust, similar to its lakes and rivers...
  • Sets up new permitting and reporting requirements. Commercial and industrial users would have to report withdrawals of more than 20,000 gallons per day and obtain a state permit for those larger than 57,600 per day.
  • Exempts all but the largest farms, which would have to report to the Agency of Agriculture if they withdraw more than 50,000 gallons per day.
  • Allows courts to impose attorney's fees on the loser of a public trust lawsuit, a measure whose backers said would discourage such suits.
  • Sets up a new permitting system that would require those seeking permits to show their water withdrawal will not have an adverse effect on state water quality standards, wetlands, or other users.
I don’t know if this legislation is significantly more restrictive that the rules of the Massachusetts DEP regulating commercial water draws in our state, other than the threshold for getting a special permit (57,600 gallons in the Vermont proposal vs. 100,000 gallons in Mass.). But it’s interesting that other New England states are looking at restricting the sort of project Nestle is proposing for the Wekepeke.

One other point that caught my eye was this warning from Canadian environmentalist Maude Barlow who spoke earlier this week at a hearing on the bill:

[S]he said that even with a new law in place, Vermont might be targeted by litigation brought under the North American Fair Trade Agreement saying the state's efforts to limit water withdrawals interfere with international trade in bottled water.
Hmmm. The idea that International treaties could supersede local laws regarding pumping was one of the points of the Council of Informed Citizens that I derided as “a head scratcher” when I criticized their tactics last month. I still don’t think that is ground that we should be staking out at this point on the process, but perhaps that concern is more legitimate than I had first considered.

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