EPA gives preliminary thumbs up to Scott clean water plan

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Environmental Protection Agency says it likes the long-term clean water funding plan Vermont Governor Phil Scott has proposed, but Democratic lawmakers aren't ready to sign off on the governor's plan just yet.

The EPA sent a letter Monday to the Scott administration calling the funding plan "a sensible framework." The EPA is calling it a preliminary determination, depending on what lawmakers agree to do.

"Having their endorsement of our approach is really important in knowing we're on the right track," said Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore. She says the governor has a good funding plan, and now she's got the EPA letter to prove it. "I think it's really significant. It indicates that we've put up a framework that's sufficient to pass muster with EPA in terms of providing long-term, sustainable funding."

The money would pay for projects and infrastructure to reduce pollution making its way into the lake. After two-years of temporary funding, the governor is revealing his long-term funding source. It raises at least $25 million per year through the property transfer tax, the capital bill, the estate tax and unclaimed bottle and can deposits. While the EPA calls it a sensible framework, some lawmakers disagree.

"They're saying encouraging things but it includes a lot of caveats here," said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison County, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He notes the EPA approval will require lawmakers to adopt the governor's plan. He's not ready to do that. "I think they're overly confident in knowing that these funding streams will continue."

Brays says his committee is likely to pass its own plan, one that raises new revenue by assessing a fee on every piece of land owned in Vermont. "I am not stuck on saying in any way that the per-parcel fee is the answer at all, I'm just saying it's a reasonable proposal and the way we get work done in a timely way is to put a proposal on the table and move it, vote, send it," he said.

Moore says she hopes lawmakers and the administration can settle on a plan soon so the EPA can give final approval. "Certainly the governor's preference is to rely on existing revenue sources. I think we put together a competent proposal that is of the right magnitude to satisfy the EPA," she said.

The EPA says it will weigh in this summer on whether it will give its final approval, but that will require the governor and lawmakers to come to an agreement.

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